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The Greening of Wal-Mart?

A Green Wal-Mart? Firm embraces environmental sustainability

A Green Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart embraces environmental sustainability
Rhett A. Butler,
February 8, 2006

While Wal-Mart is a favorite target for a broad spectrum of activist groups, the world’s largest retailer has taken a number of steps in recent months to improve the environmental sustainability of its operations.

In October 2005, CEO Lee Scott presented an environmental plan to boost energy efficiency, increase organic food sales, and reduce waste and greenhouse gases emissions. Scott told reporters that the world’s largest retailer had to be a “good steward for the environment” and believed that adopting greener practices would also be good for business by cutting costs. As part of the plan, Wal-Mart will aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2012—the Kyoto Protocol called for a 7 percent cut by the United States by that date, while targeting 100% renewable energy and zero waste. The company also announced commitments to social responsibility including increasing the number of women and minority managers.

In 2005 Wal-Mart also opened two experimental “green” superstores in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colorado. The environmentally-friendly buildings are powered by renewable energy—including photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines—to reduce carbon emissions and feature water-saving and pollution-reduction technologies.

Polycrystalline photovoltaic laminates have been integrated into the Garden Center’s canopy in the experimental McKinney, Texas store to help reduce the store’s demand on the local electrical power grid. The Garden Center canopy is estimated to generate 14,585 kwh per year, which is enough electricity to power 486 single-family homes for one day and reduces greenhouse emissions by an estimated 22,100 pounds per year. Text and photo courtesy of WalMart Stores.

In early 2006, Conservation International and WWF, prominent environmental organizations, announced a partnership with Wal-Mart to ensure ethical sourcing policies for its seafood products. Wal-Mart pledged to source all of its wild-caught fresh and frozen fish for the North American market from fisheries that meet the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)’s independent environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. MSC says the decision will lead to dozens of eco-labeled fish products becoming available to Wal-Mart’s North American customers in coming years. For the 2004-2005 year, the global retail value of MSC-labelled seafood was $133,609,933.

MSC says that Conservation International and WWF will be working with Wal-Mart and their suppliers to make improvements in less well managed fisheries, including strengthening management practices, rebuilding stocks, reducing environmental impacts, and encouraging support for broader marine ecosystem management and protection efforts. As fisheries improve, Wal-Mart and suppliers will encourage them to participate in the MSC certification program.

While some may dismiss these developments as “greenwash”, it seems more likely that Wal-Mart is looking at its bottom line in making these decisions. The notoriously cost-conscious firm probably recognizes that over the long-run it can save money by reducing energy consumption and waste, while at the same time minimizing the risk that the natural resources used in its products will be exhausted in the near future. It’s a position that we’re likely to increasingly see from other firms in the near-term.

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This article used information from press materials from Marine Stewardship Council and Wal-Mart.