City Wire, February 3, 2014
Wal-Mart has plenty of fans and critics when it comes to the retailer’s sustainability initiatives. When former CEO Lee Scott boldly announced the retailer’s sustainability platform eight years ago, there were doubters that Wal-Mart would stay the course.
While the journey to a Green Wal-Mart is a long one, there is some progress being made. In fiscal 2013, the retailer said its bottom line benefited $150 million from sustainability initiatives, such as solar and wind energy projects, fuel cell installations and its zero waste program. This was on top of $231 million it saved in 2012 from waste reduction and recycling.
Katie Ware, spokeswoman for the Environmental Defense Fund’s corporate partnership program, said there is a direct correlation between sustainable spending projects helping to boost bottom lines profits over time.
“We have had a partnership with Wal-Mart for the past seven years, and have worked directly with the retailer on multiple projects: developing the sustainability index that it now uses with its suppliers; reducing harmful chemicals in products sold; and optimizing fertilizer use among the agricultural farms that supply produce and other food items,” Ware said in a phone interview.
Stacy Mitchell, environmental expert with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said there is one glaring difference between the other top four companies and Wal-Mart.
“Just 4% of Wal-Mart’s energy used is renewable. They are quite willing to purchase renewable energy in markets where other electricity rates are already high, but don’t want to discuss core aspects of their business model that are far from efficient, such as their sprawl, land use and construction design,” Mitchell said in a phone interview.
She said another way to evaluate Wal-Mart’s professed leadership on climate is to look at its greenhouse gas emissions intensity — the volume of pollution it produces per $1 million in sales. Wal-Mart’s emissions intensity – 45 metric tons of CO2e per $1 million in sales – is higher than that of competing chains, including Costco (16 metric tons) and Target (42 metric tons), according to the Mitchell.
Costco’s emissions intensity is only about one-third of Wal-Mart’s, in part because Costco’s high-wage workforce generates more sales per square foot and therefore uses less energy to produce the same revenue.
Mitchell said Wal-Mart has received loads of media attention for sustainability efforts when it’s the suppliers doing most of the heavy lifting. But not everyone sees it that way.