Is Walmart a CSR Leader?

I can’t count the number of CSR conferences at which having a speaker from Walmart’s sustainability group is treated as a coup.  To be fair, there is no question that the company has been innovative and progressive in its CSR, or at least in its environmental sustainability initiatives.  Its approaches to reducing its footprint can fairly be characterized as bold, innovative, and cutting edge.

But looking back at the CSR rankings discussed in this blog, only the 2010 CRO ranking and the 2009 Newsweek Green Ranking recognize Walmart as a CSR leader.  Even the Global 1000 published by CRD Analytics on Justmeans limits its recognition to the company to Wal-Mart de Mexico (2009 rank: 503, 2008 rank: 863) and does not recognize the U.S. base company at all.  All this despite bold commitments from the company to “be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, “create zero waste”, and “sell products that sustain people and the environment.”  And all this despite the company’s powerful tactic of convening Sustainable Value Networks that convene “leaders from , supplier companies, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs.) “ to identify solutions that are as good for the environment as they are for Walmart’s bottom line.

So why is Walmart failing to gain recognition in rankings and sustainability indexes?  Is Walmart’s workers’ poor reputation in the area of workers’ rights tarnishing its corporate social responsibility reputation?  Perhaps, but I have an alternate proposal for what we are seeing.  If you read the Climate Leaders post I published this morning, you will notice that Walmart isn’t signed up for the program.  This decision to not participate in programs designed for the corporate masses is not uncharacteristic for Walmart, which has demonstrated a proclivity for playing by its own rules.   In short, CSR rankings may be punishing Walmart for failing to join already established initiatives or fill out information for their rankings.  Or they may be penalizing the company for not furnishing the information they request of companies when compiling the data for their analyses.

The question remains: does Walmart’s omission from the lion’s share of CSR rankings say more about the rankings assessing its performance or about the company itself?  And if you believe the latter, what is your interpretation of why Walmart is failing to make the cut-off to be recognized as a CSR leader?  I would welcome comments or questions on this topic.

Photo credit: mjb84