Less Is More
BY Leah Genuario
Making sustainable packaging top of mind.
For Matt Kistler, less is more. As leader of the Packaging Sustainable Value Network Team at Wal-Mart, Kistler is championing the corporate mission to reduce overall packaging by five percent, measuring its 60,000 suppliers on their ability to develop packaging that is good for the environment.
The plan is projected to create $10.98 billion in total savings and to prevent 667,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. It will also result in $3.4 billion in savings for Wal-Mart.
Comprised of a group of buyers, suppliers, NGOs and academics, the Packaging Sustainable Value Network Team is tasked by Kistler to study the effects of packaging and waste on the corporation’s supply chain, its stores and its customers.
Packaging reduction is just one initiative in Wal-Mart’s overall plan for environmental responsibility, which, according to Kistler, can be summed up with three goals: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.
“Wal-Mart is working hard to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills by increasing the amount of recyclable materials we use, working with suppliers to reduce packaging, and creating sustainable packaging alternatives for our private brands,” he says.
To ensure that these packaging goals are met, Kistler and his team initiated a (now global) packaging scorecard, a “fully-transparent measurement tool” that, Kistler says, helps Wal-Mart and its partners “determine exactly what’s working and how to improve.”
Packaging successes to date
So far, Kistler says, Wal-Mart’s suppliers have not disappointed, and there are a number of initiatives in development. He also points to early successes, including Unilever’s launch of All Small & Mighty, a compact bottle of concentrated detergent with enough power to wash 32 loads.
According to Kistler, the new package will save Unilever 500 million gallons in water, 26 million gallons of diesel fuel, 150 million pounds of plastic resin and 750 million sq. ft of paperboard each year.
In addition to reducing packaging, Kistler is encouraging suppliers to incorporate more environmentally friendly materials. The retailer has partnered with Microsoft, for instance, to create Xbox packaging with 50 percent recyclable materials. And Apple is working on creating “smaller” iPod packaging with 100 percent reusable/sustainable materials.
With Kistler at the helm, Wal-Mart is also holding itself accountable. Kistler points to the retailer’s 2005 replacement of petroleum-based produce packaging with corn-based PLA packaging on cut fruit, herbs, strawberries and brussel sprouts—an initiative that is projected to have saved the equivalent of 800,000 gallons of gasoline each year.
“We will continue to improve on our current packaging and sustainability initiatives and treat our achievements as a step to something greater,” Kistler says.
Road to sustainability
Since coming on board in 2003, Kistler has held several positions within Wal-Mart Stores and Sam’s Club. Initially hired as the director of private brands, he moved on to the vice president of product development and private brands before assuming his current role. Prior to joining Sam’s Club, Kistler worked for Kraft Foods, holding various new product and account development positions. He also held sales posts at Kraft, and at General Foods early in his career.
But, through it all, Kistler cites Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Sam’s Club, and Howard Brandeisky, vice president of South Beach Diet Foods at Kraft, as two individuals who impressed on him the importance of packaging.
“Even before I got into marketing I knew that, as a consumer, you pick things because of how they look,” he says. “Through my work in marketing, I have seen how products perform based on their packaging, where even good products can fail if they’re sold in the wrong packaging.”
And while aesthetics and form are important, Kistler says the goal of sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging is an equally high calling. “We have the opportunity to connect with customers on a different level—one that speaks to their values and desires to support sustainable initiatives and be good stewards of the environment.”
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING, RESEARCH & INSIGHTS, SAM’S CLUB
Name: Matt Kistler
Title: Senior vice president of marketing, research & insights for Sam’s Club
Years in current job: Three-plus years
Ultimate branded package: I haven’t seen it yet; it’s still being developed.
What’s on your nightstand? I have a lot of things on my nightstand, including my laptop, but the most interesting book I’ve read recently was Green to Gold, by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Win.