The CEO of Wal-Mart—that king of the big box retailers long condemned by environmentalists for irresponsible development, violations of clean water laws and other crimes against nature—announced last week that his company is embarking on a new $500 million-a-year initiative to green its operations. “As one of the largest companies in the world, with an expanding global presence, environmental problems are our problems,” CEO Lee Scott told employees at a speech announcing the new initiatives. He added that the environmental push was part of a larger effort to improve operations as a result of feedback from a year-long survey of Wal-Mart’s various stakeholders, including not just shareholders and employees but suppliers and critics alike.
The nuts-and-bolts of the company’s purported green awakening include increasing fuel efficiency for the company’s truck fleet by 25 percent over three years and doubling it within a decade, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over seven years, and reducing energy use at stores by 30 percent while slashing solid waste at retail locations by 25 percent in just three years.
Even with Wal-Mart’s proposed environmental about-face, though, critics say the company still has a long way to go regarding improving labor policies and increasing wages to industry-standard levels. And they wonder whether the proposed environmental changes themselves are realistic given the company’s huge size and drive for continuous expansion. But the announcement itself gives environmentalists hope that their on-going pressure on Wal-Mart and other corporate giants actually can have positive effects.