In 2005, Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. delivered a speech defining his vision for Wal-Mart in the 21st century. One goal he laid out was a call for the company to eliminate all the waste Wal-Mart’s stores and other facilities send to landfills by 2025 — it was a zero waste initiative.

What suddenly turned Wal-Mart green? The possibility of cutting costs. In his speech, Scott observed, “If we throw it away, we had to buy it first. So we pay twice: once to get it, once to have it taken away. What if we reverse that cycle? What if our suppliers send us less, and everything they send us has value as a recycled product? No waste and we get paid instead.”

After the speech, people asked what Scott meant by eliminating all the waste the company sent to landfills. After all, many people throw around the term “zero waste,” knowing that 60 percent or 80 percent or some other percentage will end up being good enough.

“Lee was clear; he meant zero,” says Vonda Lockwood, director of innovations, sustainability and compliance with Wal-Mart.

Lockwood should know. She has the job of making sure the company gets to zero waste on schedule.

Under her direction, Wal-Mart has divided its zero waste initiative into three fundamental efforts: eliminating waste, electronics recycling and packaging management.