WWF board member Kathleen McLaughlin on sustainability for the greater good

Kathleen McLaughlin at table

“I’ve always had a real appreciation for nature,” Kathleen McLaughlin says. “My earliest memories are of time spent in nature—camping, hiking, being out on the lakes with my family in Minnesota, and listening to my dad play his banjo by the campfire.”

As she was growing up, McLaughlin’s family moved back and forth between Minnesota and Arizona. Ultimately, she felt most at home in Arizona. “We’d go up into the mountains and go hiking and camping there. I just feel at peace in the desert and the mountains.”

When McLaughlin was a teenager living in Arizona, she became increasingly aware of the importance of water. For a school project, she created a public service announcement for a local television news station on why water was essential for humanity and nature and what people could do to help conserve it. She says this project was the beginning of her awareness “that we are part of nature—and that we need to alter how we live to sustain it.”

McLaughlin studied politics, engineering, and economics and eventually went on to work at the global consulting company McKinsey to learn about the role of business in bringing about social change.

She put that experience to work when she joined Walmart in 2013. In her role leading Walmart’s sustainability efforts (she also heads up the Walmart Foundation), McLaughlin focuses on “serving customers and communities in a way that creates opportunity for them and also enhances the environmental and social sustainability of our business for people at Walmart and throughout our supply chains.”

She continues, “I think the big shift that’s happened in the last 10 years is that corporate leaders have moved beyond viewing sustainability solely as a matter of responsibility or obligation. The understanding now is that sustainability is essential to the long-term success of the business; it is a matter of creating shared value for employees, suppliers, customers, and everyone we work with.”

“The understanding now is that sustainability is essential to the long-term success of the business.”

Kathleen McLaughlin
Walmart Foundation

Reflecting on the confluence of an increased global awareness of sustainability with the undeniable impacts of climate change, McLaughlin says that “rising storm intensity, prolonged droughts and rain events, extreme temperatures—all of these physical effects of climate change are already affecting retail businesses like ours. For example, a hurricane as significant as Ian puts many of our customers and associates in harm’s way; facilities are closed, businesses are disrupted. So while there are multiple reasons why having a strong approach to sustainability is critical, chief among them is that we’re all human beings, and we live on the same planet, so we need to take care of it.”*

McLaughlin joined WWF’s Board of Directors in 2021, but Walmart and WWF have worked together for much longer. She sees Walmart’s partnerships with WWF—around Project Gigaton and other corporate climate action, sustainable supply chains, and more—as key to transitioning retail sector practices for the good of business, the economy, communities, and the planet.

“There is a growing awareness of the climate and nature crisis,” she says. “The commitment of so many to address it and to transform the way we live gives me hope that we can meet the challenges ahead of us.”

* This interview took place in September 2022, as Hurricane Ian was bearing down on Florida.

Explore More

World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues