Clash of the Sustainable Titans: Walmart vs. Target

While Amazon has taken over home delivery, the original everything stores are still very much alive and thriving. Whether you are choosing to get groceries, toys or electronics, many shoppers have a choice to make between Target and Walmart. With remarkably similar product offerings, many eco-conscious shoppers may choose to make their decision with other factors in mind. We’re here to help with a breakdown of each company’s Ethically score so you can shop where your values lie.

Why you should trust us

At Ethically, we compile scores from over 700 verified sources to create a granular profile of more than 10,000 companies and brands, evaluating their impact on the environment, society at large, and good business. You can learn more about Ethically’s process in our Methodology and you can see the scores yourself by downloading the Ethically browser extension.

The companies

Wal-mart

American multinational retail corporation that operates a chain of hypermarkets, discount department stores, and grocery stores from the United States, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. The company was founded by Sam Walton in nearby Rogers, Arkansas in 1962, and also owns and operates Sam’s Club retail warehouses. 

As of January 31, 2021, Walmart has 11,443 stores and clubs in 26 countries, operating under 54 different names. The company operates under the name Walmart in the United States and Canada, as Walmart de México y Centroamérica in Mexico and Central America, it is affiliated with Asda in the United Kingdom, as the Seiyu Group in Japan, and as Flipkart Wholesale in India. It has wholly owned operations in Argentina, Chile, Canada, and South Africa. Since August 2018, Walmart holds only a minority stake in Walmart Brasil, which was renamed Grupo Big in August 2019, with 20 percent of the company’s shares, and private equity firm Advent International holding 80 percent ownership of the company.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be analyzing the Ethically scores for the U.S./Canada corporate entity of Wal-Mart.

Target Corporation

Target established itself as the discount division of the Dayton’s Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1962; it began expanding the store nationwide in the 1980s (as part of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation), and introduced new store formats under the Target brand in the 1990s.

The company has found success as a cheap-chic player in the industry. The parent company was renamed the Target Corporation in 2000, and divested itself of its last department-store chains in 2004. It suffered from a massive and highly publicized security breach of customer credit card data and the failure of its short-lived Target Canada subsidiary in the early 2010s, but experienced revitalized success with its expansion in urban markets within the United States. As of 2019, Target operated 1,844 stores throughout the United States. The company is ranked number 37 on 2020 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. Their retail formats include the discount store Target, the hypermarket SuperTarget, and “small-format” stores previously named CityTarget and TargetExpress before being consolidated under the Target branding.

The Scores

Overall, These two retail behemoths are actually closer than one might expect. Target scored an overall 63 against Walmart’s 56. Here’s where some of those scores really come from.

Target beats Walmart in the Board room

The biggest differentiators between the two are within their Governance and Environmental categories. Target beat Walmart by 8 points in both categories, specifically with big advantages in Environmental policies and Leadership Ethics. Let’s look more closely at each category.

Community

The community category is broken down into three subcategories including community development and philanthropy, product, and human rights and supply chain. This category covers the company’s commitment and effectiveness within the local, national and global community in which it does business. Community includes things like human rights violations, charitable giving and volunteerism.

Generally speaking, Target and Wal-mart aren’t actually too different here, although Target does still take the category. 

Note: All scores are out of 100Wal-MartTarget
Community Development and Philanthropy5864
Product4957
Human Rights and Supply Chain5255

Employees

The employee category includes all programs, policies and performance in diversity, labor relations and labor rights. It also focuses on compensation and benefits as well as employee safety. 

This is another area where the two giants are roughly equal. While Walmart often catches more heat than Target, their salary numbers are very comparable when it comes to in-store positions. Much of the score differences come through in very specific positions, policies and statements made by the two companies that may not get as much press as the easier to see employee salaries and bonuses.

Note: All scores are out of 100Wal-MartTarget
Compensation and Benefits5560
Diversity and Labor Rights5460
Training, Health and Safety5863

Environment

A company’s score on environment will largely have to do with their compliance with environmental regulations, energy efficient operations and development of renewable energy and alternative environmental technologies.

Here is where the differences really start to show, and in a category that is front of mind for many customers. Target outshines Walmart in their commitment and execution of environmental policies.

Note: All scores are out of 100Wal-MartTarget
Energy and Climate Change7579
Environmental Policies5770
Resource Management6772

Governance

Corporate governance refers to leadership structure and the values that determine corporate direction, ethics and performance.

As your leadership goes, so goes the company. This is possibly the most important category to get right because it has the potential to impact all of the other areas and actually improve. This is the category that Target actually performed the best in relative to the Arkansas superstore.

Note: All scores are out of 100Wal-MartTarget
Board5258
Leadership Ethics4759
Transparency and Reporting5360

Where did these scores come from and what does it tell us?

Ethically partners with CSRHub as a primary data source, which in turn, aggregates over 700 data sources, compiling them into simple, easy to digest grades. 

Looking at the data and source material, it should be noted that Wal-mart has actually made significant strides in improving their sustainability scores across the board. While Target seems to have been more effective in enacting change, Wal-mart does appear to be trying. 

That said, it’s always good to factor in effectiveness in addition to intentions, so feel free to use the scores above when you’re deciding between these two super-store giants for your next shopping trip. If you want up to date scores, make sure to download the Ethically extension to keep track of how Wal-mart is progressing and if Target slips up at all. Let’s keep holding these giants accountable!

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