It's Getting Harder to Hate Wal-Mart

Whether or not we shop there, we all feel the Wal-Mart Effect as it changes the way everyone buys and everyone sells. We don't shop there, and we also just read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which demolishes any belief in the idea that big organic is any better than big industrial food production, so we are not particularly concerned about Wal-marts entry into this market. We do note that TreeHugger has done 9 posts this year about Wal-Mart going with Green Roofs, Bullfrog Power, Corn based plastics, sustainable fish and buying forests. They are replacing their trucking fleet to double its fuel efficiency. What's going on? Is this for real or greenwashing? Can we reconcile it with our world view of Wal-Mart as a union-busting, supplier-abusing, smalltown-destroying behemoth? We recently read Wal-Mart President Lee Scott's October "secret" speech to employees on "21st Century Leadership" where he lays out his plans to make Wal-Mart radically different. He asks the rhetorical question:

"What would it take for Wal-Mart to be that company, at our best, all the time? What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: customers, Associates, our children, and generations unborn? What would that mean? Could we do it? Is this consistent with our business model? What if the very things that many people criticize us for – our size and reach – became a trusted friend and ally to all?"

Environment

"As one of the largest companies in the world, with an expanding global presence, environmental problems are OUR problems. The supply of natural products (fish, food, water) can only be sustained if the ecosystems that provide them are sustained and protected. There are not two worlds out there, a Wal-Mart world and some other world.....

Our environmental goals at Wal-Mart are simple and straightforward:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment."

strong stuff, but Scott explains the economic rationale:

"There is a simple rule about the environment. If there is waste or pollution, someone along the line pays for it. For example, if our trucks are inefficient from a fuel standpoint, we’ll pay for that at the diesel pump. If the dumpsters behind our stores fill up with trash, you can be assured that we paid someone to send that trash to us, and we will pay someone to take it away."

Trucks

"We will increase our fleet efficiency by 25 percent over the next 3 years and double it within ten years. If implemented across our entire fleet by 2015, this would amount to savings of more than 310 million dollars a year. Compare that to doing nothing."

Stores

"We are looking at innovative ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This used to be controversial, but the science is in and it is overwhelming. Climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, but hot ocean water makes them more powerful. Climate change doesn’t cause rainfall, but it can increase the frequency and severity of heavy flooding. Climate change doesn’t cause droughts, but it makes droughts longer. We believe every company has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can."

"we are committed to the following:
Aggressively investing approximately $500 million annually in technologies and innovation to do the following:
-Reducing greenhouse gases at our existing store, club and DC base around the world by 20 percent over the next 7 years.
-Designing and opening a viable prototype that is 25-30 percent more efficient and will produce up to 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions within the next 4 years.
-Increasing our fleet efficiency by 25 percent in the next 3 years, and doubling efficiency in the next 10 years."

Waste:

"We are committed to:
1. Reducing our solid waste from U.S. stores and clubs by 25 percent in the next 3 years.
2. Working with suppliers to create less packaging overall, increase product packaging recycling and increase use of post-consumer material.
3. Replacing PVC packaging for our private brands with alternatives that are more sustainable and recyclable within the next 2 years."

And more on product sourcing, health care, employee wages and working with communities- "We will adopt a siting and construction policy in the next 12 months that addresses environmental, social and historical considerations."

If these words came out of the mouth of Yvon Chouinard or John Mackey, everyone would stand up and cheer- it is a remarkable speech that all should read and hold up as a standard for any company. That it comes from Wal-Mart? We will wait and see. ::Read PDF here

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