Wal-Mart Hires Rocky Mountain Institute

We're a couple of days late on this one, but Wal-Mart has taken another encouraging step in its quest to become a more sustainable company: it's hired the Rocky Mountain Institute as a consultant. RMI will work with the retail giant on efforts to double the fuel efficiency of its trucking fleet, and to cut energy use in its stores. While critics may debate the motivation underlying Wal-Mart's recent interest in energy efficiency, RMI's outreach coordinator Cory Lowe notes that the institution founded by sustainability giants Amory and L. Hunter Lovins has no problem with a corporation taking green steps to enhance its bottom line:

That, in essence, is RMI’s goal — to show companies that going green can also be a good business decision. "Our mission is to help show people that they can continue to live sort of a modern and comfortable life but do it far better in terms of energy efficiency and cut down their impact," Lowe said. "We’ve been criticized a few times for working for Wal-Mart — but our CEO feels strongly that because Wal-Mart has such a large market share that if they can decide to do things better, it can really have a huge impact."

In the business world, everything comes down to the dollar figures. "We’re making a business case, especially to these big, big clients," Lowe said. "If we can’t talk in terms of dollars and cents and how it affects their bottom line, we’re not going to be effective."

Wal-Mart certainly deserves recognition for putting its money where its mouth is and hiring one of the premier consulting firms for sustainable business development. At the same time, considering RMI's capabilities, we could also argue that they're only going after low-hanging fruit at this point. RMI, for instance, is not advising the company on one of its signature concepts, Smart Growth development, but sticking to the isolated issues of fuel and energy efficiency. We'd love to see the world's largest retailer not only take the lead in doing business more sustainably, but also take a more systematic approach to greening itself, and perhaps even move to the head of the pack in arguing for more sustainable suburban development. While that concept on its face seems like an oxymoron, were Wal-Mart to start designing stores within a Smart Growth framework, suburbs could look like quite different places: there are still plenty of smaller towns that would look hard at their current development patterns were Wal-Mart to start insisting on mixed-use, walkable spaces to locate its stores.

At the same time, we don't want to risk sounding like those critics that counter each positive step with yet another demand -- that's never been a particularly productive means of engaging with corporations. We do hope, though, that Wal-Mart sees its forays in sustainable development as steps in a journey rather than destinations themselves. And we're definitely optimistic, as we know that the company will certainly bring others along as it progresses down this path. ::NWANews.com via Hugg