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Walmart to tag 2,000 products deemed healthier for planet and people

Report: U.S. climate goals are "insufficient"
New watchdog report rates U.S. climate goals "insufficient" 04:54

In a bid to appeal to shoppers looking for more nutritious or environmentally sustainable products, Walmart on Tuesday said it would tag goods considered better for people and the planet.

The "Built for Better" initiative will start with nearly 2,000 products in two groups: those viewed as better for one's health and those seen as less damaging to the environment. The offerings meet independent and authoritative standards, either for personal well-being or a reduced impact on the environment, according to Walmart, the world's largest retailer.

Consumers drawn to Walmart for its low prices now "want to know that the products they buy are good for their families, the people that made them and the planet," Jane Ewing, Walmart's senior vice president of sustainability, said in a blog post. "For many of our customers, living better means shopping intentionally and prioritizing brands and products that align with things that matter to them."

In tagging products as planet-friendly, the company said it is relying on standards including Energy Star Certified and Rainforest Alliance Certified, while products labeled as healthier for people include listing EWG Verified and those made without parabens, chemicals used as a preservative in cosmetics and other products. 

The step by Walmart drew limited praise from environment and consumer advocates, who called for more drastic action.

"Efforts to empower consumers with product data are critical and it's encouraging to see Walmart take action with its new platform. Yet the urgency of the moment demands that all companies — Walmart included — accelerate their climate, health and equity initiatives even further," Boma Brown-West, the Environmental Defense Fund, director of consumer health, stated in an email. "Businesses that fail to do so risk long-term reputational damage," she added. 

Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management, called Walmart's labeling "a baby step forward" for the planet. "The company would make a much larger contribution to stopping climate change and deforestation if it required all of its products to meet FSC certification rather just picking a handful from the hundreds that they offer," Samuelrich said of standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council.

The move has Walmart joining other consumer companies vying to appeal to folks who strive to spend money in ways they see as better for personal health or the planet. Global fast-food giant McDonald's, for instance, on Tuesday said its Happy Meal toys will contain dramatically less plastic by 2025.  

McDonald's plans toys made out of renewable, recycled or certified materials. McDonald's

Walmart in the past said it relies on labeling that's developed and validated by its suppliers, many of them based outside the U.S., to deflect complaints by environmental groups that include the true recyclability of plastic packaging, an issue that had Greenpeace filing suit against Walmart in December. 

The California federal judge overseeing the case dismissed Greenpeace's lawsuit on Monday, Walmart and the environmental group noted. 

"We are pleased the Court dismissed this baseless lawsuit. We previously reviewed these allegations and explained to Greenpeace that the product labeling complies with federal and state laws. Like many other retailers we rely on labeling developed and validated by our suppliers and sustainability partners, including How2Recycle," the company said in a statement. 

Greenpeace indicated it may appeal the ruling. "Walmart failed to take action when we pointed out that they were labeling packaging as recyclable when it was headed for landfills and incinerators," the group said. "When we finally took them to court, Walmart used a legal technicality to challenge our right to file rather than addressing the substance of the case."

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