Huffington Post, November 13, 2013
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has received positive press in recent years for its promises to go green. The company began issuing an annual Global Responsibility Report in 2005. It announced plans to slash emissions in its supply chain in 2010. The company pledged this year to expand the use of renewable energy.
But according to a report released Wednesday, Walmart’s green pledges remain more hype than reality.
The report, from the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance, found that Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow since 2005, while the percentage of power it draws from renewable sources lags far behind other major corporations.
“Walmart has a highly unsustainable business model, built on shipping goods long distances, selling mountains of very short-lived products, and big sprawling stores that entail lots of driving,” said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the report’s author. “Walmart is unwilling to address any of these core parts of their business model, so you have a corporate sustainability campaign that is doing nothing about its overall impact.”
The report argues that Walmart’s emissions are high enough for it to qualify as one of the biggest polluters in the U.S., with more annual emissions than corporations such as Shell Oil Company, Dow Chemical and CONSOL Energy. “When people think about climate change and they think about who the big corporate polluters are, they’re not thinking of Walmart, and they should be,” said Mitchell.
Chris Schraeder, Walmart’s senior manager for sustainability communications, defended the company’s work on reducing emissions in an email to The Huffington Post, declaring that the company has “shown that we can grow our business while slowing our environmental impact.” He said that from 2005 to 2011, the total square footage of Walmart stores and facilities increased 40 percent and sales increased 44 percent, but its greenhouse gas emissions grew only 10 percent. Schraeder said the company anticipates that by 2020, “we’ll not only flat-line [greenhouse gas] emissions, we’ll start seeing a decline” — even as the number of stores continues to grow.
The report also argues that Walmart trails other major corporations when it comes to the percentage of power it draws from from renewable sources. Walmart announced a goal earlier this year of obtaining 100 percent of its energy from renewables. As of its 2012 Global Responsibility Report, the company was 4 percent of the way there. The company boasts that it is the “largest onsite green power generator in the US.” But the report notes that in terms of the percentage of its electricity drawn from renewables, Walmart lags behind companies like Whole Foods, Kohl’s and Staples, all of which produce more renewable energy than they actually use, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent ranking of retailers. Walmart comes in third in terms of the total kilowatt hours of electricity drawn from renewables, but that’s by virtue of the fact that its operations are so large and use so much energy.
In its 2012 report, the company acknowledged there have been “challenges” to meeting renewable goals — mainly, that the company, which made $15.7 billion in profits in 2012, is finding renewables are too expensive. “In our eﬀorts to ensure our operations are contributing to Everyday Low Prices for our customers, it has sometimes been difficult to ﬁnd and fund low-carbon technologies that meet our ROI [return on investment] requirements,” the company explained.