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Let me start this post by saying that I have consciously avoided a few issues dealing with the large corporate nature of both Wal-Mart and Home Depot. I wanted to concentrate on the “green” issues associated with two enormous entities, with such a wide sphere of influence, barreling into the environmental corporate responsibility.
Wal-Mart is the country’s largest retailer. The behemoth organization is often accused of stifling local business, has had reports surface about dubious labor practices, and is considered by many as the antithesis of local economies. But what of its sustainability practices? In November, 2006 Wal-Mart announced a partnership with GE plan to sell 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs in 2007. If it realizes that goal, about 22.5 billion tons of carbon will be avoided. January, 2007: Wal-Mart opened its first high-efficiency super store, which consumes 20% less energy then traditional stores through solar lighting, energy management and other measures. In May 2007 Wal-Mart released its plan to purchase solar power from numerous solar power providers. Wal-Mart’s lofty (albeit great conceptually) corporate environmental goals are to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, create zero waste and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment. For more on Wal-Mart’s “sustainability” section see their corporate page here.
The nations second largest retailer is Home Depot. Today the New York Times printed an article titled “At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw?” regarding the company’s new Eco Options marketing and product line. The new product line consists of over 2,500 products, selected from an original list of 60,000. In 2006 the company was named ENERGY STAR® partner of the year and donated over $200,000 for carbon offsets. This year, Home Depot was again ENERGY STAR® partner of the year, and pledged over $100 million for green, affordable housing and tree planting over the next decade. The company’s environmental principles include selling sustainable products, screening producers, recycling, reducing waste, employee eco-education, and energy efficiency. For more on Home Depot’s environmental profile see their corporate page here.
What does this mean for us? Well, anytime such large organizations commit to a project it sends a message to competitors. In effect, as alpha-retailers they are declaring that the corporate status quo is to be environmentally proactive. Competitors will have to step up to eco-business practices. In the end it is up to us, the consumer, to prove that we care about green through our purchases. It is up to us by using our wallets as our votes, shoring up those stores and companies we support, and avoiding those we don’t. I try to always shop locally…sorry Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Let’s look at facts. Wal-Mart’s 2006 profits were nearly $85 billion. Green shouldn’t be an option, it should be mandatory. Home Depot’s profit in 2006 were nearly $30 billion. Ex-CEO Robert Nardelli resigned in January with a $210 million severance package. Suddenly, $100 million over a decade! doesn’t seem that ambitious. These are corporations that have the resources, the political strength, the ability to make some serious changes, but they are stopping short of their true potential, patting themselves on the back prematurely with grandiose press and marketing tools based on small-fry spending for the environment.
But, it remains up to us, consumers. We drive their profits, and so we decide what direction companies take. Let’s put some money back into the pockets of our local communities, let’s buy sustainable products, let’s stop buying SUV’s that get criminally low gas mileage. Oh, and please, let’s stop buying bottled water.
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