Highlights from Laura Phillips on Sustainability, Retail Leadership, and Answers to Student’s Burning Questions

it's a customer's world sustainability Nov 29, 2022

Highlights from Laura Phillips on Sustainability, Retail Leadership, and Answers to Student’s Burning Questions

Andy Murray recently sat down with Former SVP at Walmart, Laura Phillips. Laura has extensive retail experience in senior roles across Merchandising, Sustainability, Sourcing and Operations.  

Laura’s approach to driving change and innovation was built on the belief we can be better together and operated from a collaboration-oriented mindset that turned both associates and suppliers into co-creators of change. 

In this episode of It's a Customer's Wolrd, Andy also posed questions from Molly Rapert's  marketing students. These Walton College students asked for Laura's perspective on sustainability, retail, and career development. A special thank you to Katie Fowler, Arthur Cummisky, Megan Maciulski, and Kendall Wentworth for their participation!

Explore the highlights below!

Andy: How do consumers view sustainability?

Laura: “When I started working in sustainability, when we started doing our work at Walmart, we were one of the first companies to really pioneer this. Space of sustainability through the lens of business. And so this was more than 15 years ago. And at that time, I would tell you, the consumer wasn't really there. And we thought you know what? We're gonna take this on because we're gonna learn, it's gonna make us better at retailers, It's gonna help us understand more about our supply chains, and we're gonna see what we can do. And so we got started, right? . And what we found is that actually we could drive change, right?”

Andy: How can supplier collaboration generate innovation?

Laura: “And so we knew we'd have to bring the suppliers in, we'd have to bring them along on the journey, and we'd have to work together collaboratively to come up with solutions that worked for them, worked for us and ultimately worked for the customer.”

Andy: How can packaging impact the in-store effectiveness of a product?

Laura: “You've got two to three seconds at the shelf to capture a customer's attention and then convert them into a purchase. And so you've gotta really be clear about what that product is and what are the most important features and benefits that you're putting on the packaging on the front. That's your billboard. And it's such an opportunity to capture the customer. And you hope if they pick it up they might turn it around, but you've really gotta lead with that billboard.”

Molly Rapert: What role has curiosity had on your career development?

Laura: “Everything changes at retail so fast. The customer is changing so fast, competitors are changing, technology and so really just being a student of the customer, being a student of retail, being a student of the industry in sustainability, I really had a lot to learn. I really needed to rely on experts and get out of my comfort zone to learn new things and how I would think about those challenges through the lens of retail.”

Katie Fowler: How can corporations regain consumer trust regarding sustainability?

Laura: “Going all the way back to the farm, all the way back to the factory and just figuring out what's in the product, what's in the packaging. How can I have a more efficient production process? What happens at the end of its life? And they're asking questions. And I would tell you so many are learning and we're seeing such great innovation and that ultimately we are able to deliver more sustainable products to customers. And so absolutely, it's hard, but big companies have the opportunity to do this at scale.And also have the resources to learn and to invest.”

Arthur Cummisky: What is the most unexpected challenge faced in sustainability?

Laura: “I learned that you've got to bring in maybe your competitors, not just your suppliers, but their suppliers. And maybe it's who's producing the raw materials or who runs the factory. Maybe it's an NGO. And to really listen and learn. Maybe it's a university. And so all of those people are required to solve some of these challenges at the system level. You can't do it by yourself, and you can't do it overnight. And so being able to take on work with others and work over a long period of time you can do great things.”

Megan Maciulski: How can young adults lead a sustainable lifestyle?

Laura: “In terms of sustainability, look into companies and products, understand their practices and then make your choices, vote with your wallet, right? If you see a company that's doing great work, shop there, or a brand that you like, buy that brand and comment about it in your own social media and your own platforms. Share with others what you're learning and what you're doing. I'm a big believer in small changes really matter and they add up."

Kendall Wentworth: What is one thing you wish you knew entering the workforce?

Laura: “Be excellent where you are now. Be the best student right now. Get good grades, study and be involved in activities. So be excellent where you are. And then go work on something that differentiates https://www.linkedin.com/redir/general-malware-page?url=you%2eSo go find something to be famous for. And I think that works as a student. Or once you're out in the real world and start your career, what are you gonna be known for?”

Andy: How can  a positive approach to difficult challenges lead to success?

Laura: “Other people have the answers. We're gonna be better if we can all figure it out. And we're gonna just have more fun if we're all nice to each other. And then I think the other thing is there are times when I didn't do that well, and I'm really appreciative of the mentors in my career who sat me down and said, ‘Now Laura, that was not the right way.’ And I needed to learn those lessons. I'm so grateful for those leaders who took me aside and had those conversations. And by the way, that didn't just happen once or early on, that happened all the time.”

If you are interested in retail or sustainability, be sure to check out and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts! You can find all previous episodes through the links below: