Shades of Green: Amazon, Walmart, and Retail Sustainability


There are 7.5 billion people on the planet, compared with only 2 billion a century ago. Earth’s natural resources are under tremendous pressure. We are using more energy and creating more pollution than ever before. Growing populations and dwindling resources scream one thing: “business as usual” is no longer an option. Just a few decades ago, corporations had one mission: maximize profits. Today, a company that does not demonstrate a commitment to sustainability will have a hard time earning consumers’ trust and business.

Retailers interact with both their suppliers and customers, and hence play a vital role in influencing their behaviors and bringing about a more sustainable society. Demanding sustainability from suppliers and meanwhile educating customers about the benefits of sustainable products has transformed the retail landscape. The two big players, Amazon and Walmart, are pushing sustainable practices on many levels: renewable energy, waste management, green buildings and products, and supply chain efficiency.

Both Amazon and Walmart are seeking differentiation and competitiveness through ambitious sustainability goals. Amazon is the leader when it comes to e-commerce. Walmart dominates in the brick-and-mortar realm. The future of retail will be shaped by one of them. The giant that better utilizes sustainability and green initiatives will most likely win this two-horse race.

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

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