Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greenest of them all? Well, if you’re in the retail sector the obvious answer to that is Wal-Mart. There was much skepticism initially of Wal-Mart’s attempts to go green. Many believed its quest to reduce energy consumption, embrace rooftop solar systems and clean up its transport fleet was yet another attempt at feel-good marketing — a bid to win over consumers who believed Wal-Mart was an evil retail monster aimed at taking over every small town in America. At the recent Cleantech Forum in Toronto, Rand Waddoups, senior director of corporate strategy and sustainability at Wal-Mart, admitted that the retailer’s green strategy was initially adopted from a defensive posture. “We started by saying ‘this could be a real problem for us, we need to understand how big of a problem this could be.’ Over time, we realized this wasn’t a problem, it was a real opportunity for us.”
Regardless of Wal-Mart’s intentions, its actions are clearly more important. Not just how they can dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and waste coming from the world’s largest retailer, but also in the way they can influence competitors to follow or be left behind. Home Depot is pushing the green agenda, and in Canada so is hardware/retail rival Canadian Tire (which is not only selling solar and wind products but also beginning to use them for some of their stores). The latest evidence is Canadian retailer and Wal-Mart rival Zellers, owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company (Canada’s oldest company).
Hudson’s Bay announced today that a new Zellers store in Ontario — in a town called Waterdown — has become its greenest store yet. Two windmills and solar panels are being used to help power the store, which also has a white roof to reflect and disperse heat. The store also features waterless urinals and touchless faucets, sensors that control kitchen exhaust fans, LED lights for inside signage, return programs for recycling plastic bags and batteries, as well as some energy recovery systems.
To top it off, an automated energy management system can be controlled remotely from head office. “The system allows for central control over the timing of indoor and outdoor lights, temperature control, CO2 reduction, humidity control, electricity consumption, remote lighting and more.”
Robert Johnston, president of Hudson’s Bay Company, said the Waterdown store will be a “proving ground” for eco-friendly initiatives that will be considered in other stores over the coming years. “This is one of the many important green initiatives HBC has undertaken in 2007… We have also increased the number of our trucks using biodiesel and undertaken Zero Waste programs at our head offices and seven stores.”
HBC may claim it’s not responding to Wal-Mart, just as much as Canadian Tire might say it’s not responding to Home Depot, but the fact is there’s a competition going on amongst major retailers in North America who want to be perceived as the greenest of them all. They see this as a way to gain a competitive advantage and at the same time lower costs, and perhaps just as important, they see they have no option if they want to stay relevant in a market where green-minded consumers are demanding more.
This is all a very good thing.