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Wal-Mart to label products with eco ratings

World's largest retailer plans to ask suppliers to provide environmental information on all products, labeling all items with eco ratings for environmental friendliness.

Wal-Mart wants its suppliers to help it get greener.

The retail giant plans to announce on Thursday that it will ask its suppliers to provide environmental information on all products carried in its stores. Wal-Mart Stores will use that information to label each item with an eco rating, designed to measure its environmental friendliness.

"We have to change how we make and sell products," Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart's president and chief executive, plans to tell about 1,500 suppliers and employees on Thursday at a "sustainability meeting," according to a copy of his prepared remarks, quoted in The New York Times. "We have to make consumption itself smarter and sustainable."

To kick off the program, Wal-Mart will ask its suppliers to answer about 12 questions for each item. The questions are designed to determine how the product was made, how it was packaged, and what elements or ingredients were used to manufacture it.

Wal-Mart will then tap into a database and metrics to calculate the "greenness" of a product and translate that information into a ratings system for consumers.

The company will partner with a consortium of about 12 universities to collect the data and set new design standards. Professor Jay Golden of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University will function as co-director of the new consortium.

The universities will work directly with suppliers to determine each product's environmental impact, from how it uses raw materials to if and how it can be recycled.

Talks have already been held in Washington about possible new regulations for environmental labeling. But Golden says having Wal-Mart lead the way will "move it so much faster."

Wal-Mart plans to announce further details about the program on Thursday. But the initiative is clearly important to the company.

The eco-rating system is just the latest effort by Wal-Mart to create a greener landscape. The company has already strived to make its own stores environmentally friendly, including a plan to tap into solar power. Wal-Mart has also driven an effort to create more sustainable electronics devices to reduce the amount of items dumped into landfills.