Friday, July 22, 2005

Big Box Greening

Wal*Mart is received some positive press from Renewable Energy Access and Solar buzz recently for its adoption of green technologies at a new Supercenter in Texas. RenewableEnergyAccess.com's article, Wal-Mart Deploys Solar, Wind, Sustainable Design appeared July 22nd, while Solarbuzz's article, RWE SCHOTT Solar Lights Up New Experimental Renewable Energy Wal-Mart Solar Panels appeared July 21st. Media outlets from Grist Magazine to The Wall Street Journal have mentioned Wal*Mart's new efforts at social responsibility as most publicity about Wal*mart has been overwhelmingly negative over the past few years.

Wal*Mart's own web page, referring to the McKinney, Texas location as a Wal-Mart Experimental Store, has the typical nuts & berries look to it, with the quasi-handwritten font and natural shades of muted green and earth tones. Isn't it soothing just to look at it?

Let there be no misunderstanding; Wal*Mart's publicity of its adoption of renewable energy technologies is well calculated to help turn its increasingly negative image around. Wal*Mart Watch, a watch dog group scrutinizing Wal*Mart's operations, makes mention of the Wall Street Journal article entitled "Counterpunch -- Wal-Mart Boss's Unlikely Role: Corporate Defender-in-Chief" profiling CEO Lee Scott's PR problems that have afflicted his tenure. With its status as the SUV (another scapegoat, perhaps rightfully so) of the retail world; the one people blame for everything from sweat shop labor in the developing world to suburban sprawl, they need to make some positive PR steps.

So what? The goal of creating sustainable businesses is to get all types of businesses to adopt sustainable measures in their facilities. Progress is step-wise, not made in one fell swoop. Maybe they read Thinking Outside the Big-Box: Report Suggests Smart Growth for Retailer Siting Decisions, realizing it is their shareholder's best interest to start adressing the negative environmental impacts of their stores. Time will tell where this leads.

I will not sit here and sing the praises of Wal*mart's work for the environment. The manufacture of consumer products in countries where labor conditions are far less healthy to feed our need for inexpensive stuff certainly has negative social and environmental implications. I wonder how much energy is consumed to ship these items? What is the impact of energy prices on the long-term financial efficacy of this model?

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