The Washington Post
Wal-Mart presses vendors in China to meet higher standards
By Steven Mufson
Friday, February 26, 2010; 3:34 PM
SHENZHEN, CHINA -- Benny Fung, the head of Hong Kong-based soap and cosmetics maker
Lutex, seems to have an eye for detail. The meeting room at his factory here in southern China is
lined with neatly packed gift baskets. His jacket has a thin purple velvet accent around the lapel
to match his purple tie.
Now Fung's biggest customer -- Wal-Mart Stores -- is urging him to pay attention to other
details. Environmental details. Energy-saving details. Not just everyday low prices, but low
greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, Lutex has been paying attention to more efficient light bulbs, better ventilation and
less packaging. It switched from Styrofoam to recycled paper and saved enough Styrofoam to
cover four football fields. And Lutex, which has been here since 1991, says it treats four tons of
wastewater that it used to dump into the municipal sewage line. That water was supposed to be
treated by the city, but like three-quarters or more of China's wastewater, it almost certainly
"We heard that in the future, to become a Wal-Mart supplier, you have to be an environmentally
friendly company," Fung said. "So we switched some of our products and the way we produced
Wal-Mart has more than 10,000 suppliers in China. In addition, about a million farmers supply
produce to the company's 281 stores in China. If Wal-Mart were a sovereign nation, it would be
China's fifth or sixth largest export market. So the company hopes that small measures taken by
all suppliers start to add up. Its 200 biggest suppliers in China have already trimmed 5 percent of
their energy use.
In the past, environmental concerns have taken a back seat to growth in China and to costs for
Wal-Mart. And China and Wal-Mart have come under sharp criticism for conditions in factories.
Yet pollution now threatens China's growth; as a result, awareness about climate change and
energy security has spread in China. Likewise, as consumers grow more environmentally aware,
Wal-Mart's executives have responded. On Thursday,
the company pledged to reduce its
greenhouse gas emissions
In October 2008, Wal-Mart held a conference in Beijing for a thousand of its biggest suppliers to
urge them to pay attention not only to price but also to "sustainability," which has become a
touchstone for many companies.
"For those who may still be on the sidelines, I want to be direct," Wal-Mart chief executive Lee