More evidence of the Wal-Mart effect

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.

13 thoughts on “More evidence of the Wal-Mart effect”

  1. What about all the greenhouse emmisions Walmart’s suppliers make in China ? If Walmart was concerned about the environment, it should look at how green its suppliers are. But for that this is just a PR exercise…

  2. While I think Walmart’s current efforts may have some limited impacts, I take huge exception to them be called the “greenest of them all” in the retail sector. They aren’t going nearly as far as they could or should and their current initiatives mean little in the big picture. Product source concerns (as mentioned in the first comment) have not really been addressed and real changes to their business model seem off the table. As long as their stores are located and designed for the auto-dependent and exist to shutter alternatives to this model, we are short changed. Buying “green” products from stores like Wal-mart is like putting Swiffer cloths in your reusable tote.

    BTW: Although I applaud them for their small-steps, Zellar’s “green” store in Waterdown is in the vanguard of a massive sprawl expansion into areas where people will almost certainly have to drive to live (and was opposed by local residents and business associations). Their carbon saving initiatives will quickly be displaced by the idling at traffic lights surrounding them soon.

  3. What! So we should buy cheap dispossible products like $29 DVD players that break down every 6 months, which then end up in our landfills, not to mention the fact that we our putting ourselves out of jobs. Walmart could never achieve “green company” status with all the cheap, toxic, high-margin-low cost garbage they sell. I worked in the retail electronic sector for 12 years and I saw people buying cheap bookshelf stereos that lasted between 2 – 5 years. A good quality stereo lasts 30-40 years perhaps even more. More recently the news has be exposing the cheap toxic toys coming from China. It’s nice to know the profitability of a company trumps the health of the people.

    I vote Walmart the most toxic company in the world. Nothing they sell is Kosher.

  4. I agree, in an ideal world, with all your points. Wal-Mart should die. Wal-Mart is bad. Big box is bad. Let’s all take this as a given. Now, in a realistic scenario, is it good or bad that Wal-Mart begins taking these steps and sparks more industry-wide change in the process? If we assume the big box approach is here to stay, then it can’t be all bad that efforts are in place to try to decrease the environmental footprint.

    My concern is that too many people, even when some companies are trying, simply poo-poo the idea and are suspicious of motives. Every now and then, however, you have to encourage and applaud small moves in hopes they will become bigger moves. If you immediately dismiss them, then why would a company like Wal-Mart try to go any further?

    I’m just trying to be realistic, here, not dogmatic.

  5. I have no expectations that a WalMart will alter its approach to selling cheap disposable stuff – this is where our governments must step in. They can level the playing field for products by creating standards for recylability, reusability and cradle to grave life cycle environmental impact analysis. We must focus our criticisms on a government that takes vary minimal action to create a supply of such products that a WalMart can sell. WalMart will not sell more expensive greener products in any volume until they can get them from their supply chain. In the meantime, I try not to shop there, but I also find it increasingly difficult to find really good quality products with 5 year warranties from any retailer. So, I just try to resist buying stuff!

    Cheers

  6. I would like to see the numbers. What is the percentage of reduction in greenhouse gases (produced by Walmart) that can be attained by their move? I am guessing it would be equivalent to less then .01% factoring in all stages of manufacturing and transportation. I agree with your statement “better then doing nothing” but it steals attention away from the fact that they pollute more then they are worth. They are not a necessity.

    It sounds like the real question underlying it all is what’s more important jobs or the enviroment? Or perhaps our lifestyles or the enviroment? I understand Walmart employs 1.6 million people who most certainly don’t get paid very well. That is a tremendous work force that could be involved in the manufacture and sales of green tech products such as solar cell, fuel cells…fill in the blank. It’s this mass production of these technologies that we need to lower the cost. North america does not produce anything anymore…oh, except consumers.

    To summarize. We don’t need Walmart for the sake of keeping people employed and shopping there is not making their customers rich from the savings they have achieved. We are just keeping a valuable work force away from important jobs.

  7. I wonder what benefit there is in adopting some business practices that protect the environment, while other practices exploit their workers? Wal-Mart might be a little more holistic if it tries to have a sustainable approach to its workforce as well as the environment. Any thoughts?

  8. How many of the deadly sins of greenwashing is Wal-Mart committing?

    Hidden Trade Off,

    in which companies highlight one eco-friendly attribute, and ignore their product’s other (potentially more significant) environmental concerns.

    No Proof,

    which, just like it sounds, involves claims that can’t be verified (the report found 26% of environmental claims fall into this category).

    Vagueness

    terms like “chemical-free,” or “non-toxic,” which are both universally true, and universally false depending on your interpretation.

    Irrelevance,

    when companies make claims that — while true — are unhelpful (like “CFC-free,” when CFCs have been banned for almost 30 years).

    Lesser of Two Evils

    like “green” herbicides, which ignores the fact that herbicides in any form aren’t good for the environment.

    Fibbing.

    The most obvious, in which companies flat out lie (less than 1% of companies make this mistake, but does happen).

    http://www.greendaily.com/2007/11/19/the-six-sins-of-greenwashing/

    http://www.greenbiz.com/radio/radio_third.cfm?NewsID=36268

    Jason

  9. Wow, quite the hate-on everybody has for Wal-Mart. I wonder how many of you have shopped there? Fact is, if North Americans keep shopping there who’s to blame? Again, my comment is not on whether Wal-Mart is good or evil, it’s that in the last few years, if you measure where the company has started, it has made measurable strides in decreasing its larger eco-footprint and it is committed over the next few years to being even more aggressive. This commitment influences others to take action, and also requires Wal-Mart suppliers to raise the bar. Tell me what the problem is with this?

  10. Walmart are moving in the green direction on the trasportation side by using trailer aerodynamics, we are a vendor of trailer Fairings, a Canadian innovation . They have been proven to reduce Aerdynamic drag by diverting yaw angle wind down the side of the trailer instead of undeneath and releasing from the downwind side of the trailer. They have been validated by the EPA, Good year proving grounds and NRC in Ottawa. fuel savings are in the 5-6% range or 2800 litres per tuck per year. plus 4 tons of Carbon .www.laydoncomp.com

  11. I haven’t shopped there for 5 years. About the same time that I became aware of social/economic/enviromental problems surrounding them.

  12. Regardless what people may think, it’s a good thing that Wal-mart started it. Other retailers will follow soon I believe if Wal-mart gets it going well.

  13. Walmart is a place of evil. Their management treats the employees very badly. Bullying is used regularly by the managers. They do not consider their employees as humans. There are no sense of belonging at Walmart. The management encouraged gossips and tell-tales among the employees. Then they can use the employees to “fight” each others. No wonder Walmart has a high turn over rate at their work places. It is NOT a Happy work force there. Walmart will continue to create poverty as long as it exists. Walmart destroys jobs and lowers wages in your community.

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