Sunday, July 16, 2006

Is Wal-Mart Going Green?

I found this at Raven's blog, the blog for the BuyBlue site. If it's true, it may be a huge step toward large companies taking a stand to be responsible for their impact on the environment. And if it's Wal-Mart, there must be profit involved.

Grist magazine is a responsible source, so this article seems legitimate.
I've talked to directors of packaging, produce, logistics and transportation, construction, jewelry, apparel, and beyond, all surprisingly savvy and knowledgeable about sustainability within their divisions.

There's a huge focus on supply chain: Wal-Mart's leaders have acknowledged that "90 percent of the impact Wal-Mart can have is on the supply chain." They have recognized that while Wal-Mart is responsible for roughly 20 million metric tons of CO2 a year, there are 200 million tons of annual greenhouse-gas emissions in their supply chain -- a level of transparency that no company I've covered to date has offered.

The produce director is moving toward more local farm purchases in order to save money on truck fuel costs and refrigeration. Moving away from selling monoculture produce at all stores to more diversity in produce based on region (instead of Yukon potatoes at every store, dozens of different potato varieties at different stores depending on what's local). Said the produce director, "Our whole focus is: How can we reduce food miles?" He predicts a big resurgence of locally produced farm products in coming decades (not necessarily family farms, but locally produced nevertheless).

The jewelry division is moving toward working only with sustainably certified gold mines, and producing Wal-Mart jewelry with recycled gold. Also, consolidating jewelry shipping to reduce energy.

In transportation, they're looking to double the efficiency of their truck fleet by 2015, and bring hybrid-diesel trucks into their fleet.

In packaging, Wal-Mart is moving toward the use of reusable plastic containers instead of cardboard, and biodegradable corn-based packaging, with the aim of a zero-waste stream by 2025.

Of course, these are all goals, not accomplishments. We'll see over the coming years how their performance measures up to their talk.
Read the whole article.

This sounds good, but talk is cheap -- while good publicity is priceless. And even though Wal-Mart buying locally sounds good, it probably won't be good for local farmers. Wal-Mart continually pushes down prices to the point that suppliers and up losing money just to be in Wal-Mart. I worked for a company that tried to get into Wal-Mart, so I've seen the way they treat suppliers.

Still, if they can reduce any of the CO2 they talk about, it is a step in the right direction. But I remain skeptical.

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