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Walmart Sustainability Competition: Leading the Way for Sustainable Business (Fall 2009 Article)

“The Walmart of today is not the Walmart of 10 years ago,”
said Brad Killaly, Goizueta Business School professor, at Emory’s
Walmart sustainability competition information session
on September 29, 2009. Emory’s participation in a Walmart
suitability competition is getting students to realize the newly
recognized potential business has to make a sustainable impact.
In the information session for the competition, Ciannat
Howett, director of Emory’s Sustainability Initiatives, gave
an inspirational keynote speech on previous Emory student
sustainability projects and how these projects often lead to
business and green job opportunities after graduation, like
student Erik Fyfe’s biofuel run Emory Shuttle service.
My group and I have submitted a project proposal for the
competition that we hope will encourage Walmart to take an
even stronger stance on sustainable business. Our group
seeks to formulate a comprehensive contract that Walmart
could implement with its poultry and egg suppliers concerning
environmentally friendly poultry waste disposal. Currently,
because of insufficient industry regulations the poultry industry
does not take financial responsibility for the disposal
of poultry waste. Instead, the waste disposal is left to chicken
farmers lacking the financial means to properly process and
discard the waste. I formulated the idea for our project on
the day of the competition information session, where students
in other disciplines validated my idea. This gave me
hope that my proposal idea had the potential for implementation
in a competitive business environment.
Andrew Tate, one of the students participating in the competition
and president of the Emory Environmental Alliance,
said Howett’s speech “really connected us to the potential of
this project;” “we felt more part of an on-going legacy than
a small competition.” Daniel Baum, Tate’s group leader and
inventor of their sustainable idea, hopes to use the competition
“as a potential way to start up a business after he graduates,”
said Tate.
2010 Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge is the
3rd year Walmart has held a national student competition
for the best student invented sustainable product or service.
The winning student group will be awarded $20,000 towards
implementing their sustainability idea for the market, and
Howett’s office has pledged an additional $5,000 award, if
an Emory team wins. Approved Emory student groups (4-6
members) will present their product/service on January 29,
2010, and the winning group will then go onto regionals and
hopefully nationals at Walmart headquarters.
This is the first year Emory is participating in the competition,
and as seen by the nearly full lecture room at the competition’s
information session, there has been a tremendous
response from the student body. About nine groups have
submitted proposals for the Emory round of the competition,
said Tracy Yandle, Environmental Studies professor and
leader in implementing Emory’s involvement in the competition.
When asked about people’s initial reception to the competition,
Yandle said, “There’s a sense that this is a neat competition.
So it [people’s responses] actually wasn’t as skeptical
as I was expecting.” Yandle says this competition holds
tremendous opportunity for “the kind of experience you don’t
normally get in the university setting, experience that would
be very useful in the job market.”
“I hope to receive a better understanding of sustainable products and the sustainable marketplace,” said David Gimnich, an Environmental Studies
student. Gimnich believes this knowledge is important for his future, which he hopes will be in the field of environmental technologies. This competition is also an opportunity to expose students to different disciplines and to encourage them to think in different ways that would give them a competitive edge in the job market, said Tracy. Chrishantha Vedhanayagam, a Business student participating in the competition in my group said, “I expect to learn more about our topic, and gain valuable knowledge that will help me raise awareness about the importance of sustainability among my peers.” Lee Pasackow, Goizueta Business School Librarian, “worked around the clock to get the word out to as many people as possible,” said Tate. Yandle said that the competition groups “seem to be fairly mixed;” “a couple business and a couple others within one group.” Rollins School of Public Health graduate students, Emory Law students, Goizueta Business students, and many other students from various departments in the college are all participating in this competition, said Yandle.
During the information session, students were encouraged to
form mixed department groups because of the interdisciplinary
nature of sustainability issues, and the meeting ended
with time to share proposal ideas with each other. “I probably
would not have such a balanced team had it not been
for that,” said Tate, referring to the informal networking at the
session. Tate’s group consists of two Business School, one
Environmental Studies major, and an Anthropology-Religion
major (Tate). Tate said they have all contributed to making
the idea stronger and more viable for the market. My group
includes four Environmental Studies majors and two Business
School students.
Just after starting work on the competition proposal, Vedhanayagam
said she already better understands both the
necessity of making sustainability “a priority for any company
that wishes to succeed in the coming years,” and the
challenge that such a pursuit entails. Even though students
have just started work on their projects and thinking about
the benefits of sustainable business, it seems that Walmart’s
competition has already started teaching important
lessons about the usefulness of interdisciplinary
collaboration and about the challenge and
potential of implementing a green business plan.


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