Most Influential Projects 2022

14 Project Gigaton

Project Gigaton

For slashing emissions—and encouraging others across the supply chain to do the same

It was the kind of rousing call to action that inspires—and then all too often just fades away: “What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this Earth an even better place for all of us: customers, associates, our children and generations unborn? What would that mean? Could we do it?” Walmart’s then-CEO Lee Scott asked in a pivotal 2005 speech, shortly after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

Scott had previously been unabashed about considering corporate environmental goals largely a public relations exercise, but viewed the hurricane as a wake-up call to the climate-related risks of continuing with business as usual. And as one of the world’s largest retailers, Walmart held unparalleled sway over the consumer packaged goods industry. What would happen if that power was wielded to make progress on climate action?

The megaretailer gained slow-but-steady sustainability momentum, from upping its use of renewable energy in stores to diverting landfill waste. But it was the announcement of Project Gigaton in April 2017 when Walmart really threw down the gauntlet for itself—and the thousands of manufacturing partners and suppliers who keep its 10,500 stores stocked: Reduce or avoid 1 gigaton (or 1 billion metric tons) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030. 

Walmart enlisted an array of players to help it develop a plan in alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement: the WWF, the Environmental Defense Fund and the global climate nonprofit CDP. Five years in, the project has enrolled nearly 5,000 participating suppliers. To help those suppliers reach their individual goals and contribute to the cumulative tally, the Project Gigaton team developed a platform packed with informational toolkits as well as playbooks, reports, calculators and workshops. 

“Our work and suppliers’ initiatives are most successful when blending simplicity, credibility and innovation,” says Zach Freeze, Walmart’s senior director of sustainability. To that end, suppliers are encouraged to focus on six identified target pillars: energy, waste, packaging, nature, transportation, and product use and design. “Each of these is specific enough to focus on work and report results, while also being broad enough to involve the wide variety of products and suppliers that make up the Walmart assortment,” he says. 

As suppliers set and reach goals, they’re rewarded with shoutouts on the Project Gigaton website. So far, more than 1,000 have reached “Giga-Guru” status, meaning they have set goals in and reported progress on at least three of the six pillars. 

In April, Walmart announced the project was more than halfway toward its gigaton goal—helping avoid or reduce a cumulative 574 million metric tons of emissions in just five years, with eight still remaining on the clock. Still, Freeze isn’t wasting any time by taking a victory lap. The mission, he says, is as pressing as ever: “to inspire stronger and more urgent action from our suppliers.”