Carbon Crusaders


The Jolly Green Giants: Wal-Mart vs Home Depot by ddelcourt
June 25, 2007, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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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4 Comments so far
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I would disagree with the author’s ending decree. He semi-praises the environmental practices of large corporations, and then encourages us to not spend money there because he feels that they do not do enough. The author fails to highlight the pro-environmental practices of the local merchants, nor does he illustrate how not supporting WalMarts and Home Depots will increase good environmental practicies. The author is correct when he states we vote with our dollars; I feel the author should encourage the consumers to purchase moore “green” products from these corporate retailers. If demand for green goods goes up, the stores will find more eco-friendly products to sell. They should be praised for leading the way when they clearly were not even required to take an action; if they hadn’t taken any action, they would have even higher profits.

Comment by Jack Martin

Jack,
Thanks for your comments. Indeed the blog does try to cover a lot of ground. What David is trying to address is the positive environmental impact created by these larger institutions, while highlighting the fact that these actions, when contextualized, are very small.

The issue of sustainability extends beyond simply the idea of environmental stewardship. The blog poorly explains this. Local businesses and purchasing locally are associated with lower transportation costs, and most importantly, a higher percentage of business revenues flowing back into the local community.

In addition, thank you for your supply and demand explanation of green products.

Comment by makemesustainable

“Green” choices and the benefits associated with them run a wide gamut. I guess it is important to understand that with every choice we make as consumers, it is important to research and critically think about where our dollars are going even if the package says “green” all over it. For example, buying organic from Safeway maybe a great choice, but even better would be to purchase a local fruit and vegetable box or buy from a farmers market. I guess it all depends on how far your willing to bend and change. I do agree that it is hopeful to see large companies making changes, but that is just one step. To put it on auto pilot and forget to think critically before we make a decision will defeat our mission to keep making good decisions as consumers. There is always room for improvement no matter what your doing!

Comment by Katie Dean

[…] agreements. Wal-Mart was one of a few companies which forged the path for energy efficiency. This June 2007 post shows how ahead of the curve they really […]

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