Democrats & Liberals Archives

One Step Forward, Many More To Go

Grist recently interviewed Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott about the company’s relatively shocking move to join leading energy executives in their call for mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. I’m an outspoken critic of Sprawl-Mart but tried to be as unbiased as possible when reading this piece. Lee Scott seems to have his head screwed on properly, to some degree, when it comes acknowledging this company’s ability to impact the global environment. Granted these are only words, but Scott’s intentions seem good, if not for just Wal-Mart but the environment too.

According to the article:

In October, Scott announced a preposterously ambitious goal to transform Wal-Mart into a company that runs on 100 percent renewable energy and produces zero waste. Since then, he has impressed greens with specific commitments to cut the corporation’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent over the next seven years, double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet within 10 years, reduce solid waste from U.S. stores by 25 percent in the next three years, and double offerings of organic foods this spring, selling them at prices more affordable to the masses.

When Grist asked what Scott’s motivation was to make this move he responded:

I think two things happened. One, as we look at our responsibility as one of the world’s largest companies, it just became obvious that sustainability was an issue that was going to be more important than it was, let’s say, last year, and the years before. I had embraced this idea that the world’s climate is changing and that man played a part in that, and that Wal-Mart can play a part in reducing man’s impact. We recognized that Wal-Mart had such a footprint in this world, and that we had a corresponding part to play in sustainability.

On a personal level, as you become a grandparent — I have a granddaughter — you just also become more thoughtful about what will the world look like that she inherits. So I think it was a confluence of both the personal side and the business imperatives that at least drew me to be interested in it.

This is the first time I remember Wal-Mart acknowledging its impact on society in manner that didn’t solely involve the mantra of lower prices. Its strategy of barreling through society with its head down is backfiring, and I’m happy to hear the company has noticed. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that direct pollution and waste isn’t Wal-Mart’s only negative contribution to the planet. Catalyzing urban, suburban and exurban sprawl is wasteful in and of itself. Even if the company “greens” its operations, it still promotes distant living and overuse of the automobile. If Wal-Mart can cut a portion of its waste as a company but still spurs cookie-cutter neighborhoods in the distant suburbs of all the metropolitan areas in the U.S. (not to mention other countries), I’m fairly certain the waste and inefficiency created by expanding basic services to ever-distant residents will not be offset. You can operate greenly, but if you do it 50 miles from the urban center of a city a lot of gas has to be burned for consumers to benefit. Another downside of its sprawl is the cultural impact of homogenizing populations, the detrimental effects of which are growing and more evident every day.

Wal-Mart does a lot more than just create an exorbitant amount of garbage - some of which is good, much more of which is bad. Greening its operations is undeniably a step in the right direction. A few million more and we might be back to from where we came.

Posted by Vihar Sheth at April 19, 2006 10:04 AM
Comment #141672

Of course this has not much to do with a better environment. It all has to do with market strategy to make even more profits. They also want ‘green’ people to buy from their shops. With this move they only gain, and lose nearly nothing (except of some money, which will be added with this strategy). One of the best PR move syou can make as company.

Posted by: Ouwe at April 19, 2006 10:15 AM
Comment #141692

So WalMart builds store 50 miles in the middle of nowhere and then encourages developers to build around the store. What hogwash. They aint going to waste money building where no one lives.
I don’t live in a urban area but I get to them on a fairly regular basis. I’ve noticed that long before WalMart builds a store housing development have been going in.
If your going to blame anyone for urban sprawl, blame the developers and the city or county governments that allow it.
I’m glad at least that you agree that WalMart is headed in the right direction in it’s efforts to cut down on waste and pollution. Just with the huge size of the company it’s going to produce a whole heap more waste and pollution than most others companies. I think that they should being looking for ways to cut down on this. As should every company.

Posted by: Ron Brown at April 19, 2006 11:36 AM
Comment #141694

You may not be aware of this, but an awful lot of people live 50 miles from the urban center of a city, and have since long before Wal-Mart came along. I live 16 miles from the city limits of a small city. I’ve never seen a Wal-Mart outside the city limits of a city, anywhere.
I’m no fan of WM but doesn’t it make sense to provide services where people live? Are you saying that people should only live in big cities?

Posted by: traveller at April 19, 2006 11:45 AM
Comment #141697

Sounds like this might help. I’ll be really impressed when he calls for national health care. Notice I said health care not insurance. But we should give credit where it is due.
Odd to agree with Mr. Brown. I would also like to point out that “sprawl” is too often a term used to define someone elses nieghborhood. People need places to raise their families and building them is not an inherently evil pursuit.

Posted by: BillS at April 19, 2006 11:51 AM
Comment #141711


Its interesting that WalMart does something good and you hunt and search for a downside to it. Sounds like you might be the type to complain that Bill Gates gave away 30 Billion dollars just to get a tax break, without thinking of what the 30 billion might do for people. Or perhaps the type who complains about winning the lottery because of all the taxes you’ll have to pay.

A good thing is a good thing. There’s always going to be multiple reasons for doing something—that’s true of everything we do. I know if I give my wife flowers it makes her happy. I also know that if she’s happy, life is more fun. I know that when life is more fun, everything is better. Should I not give my wife flowers simply because I recognize those other issues?

Posted by: joebagodonuts at April 19, 2006 1:50 PM
Comment #141714
I’m no fan of WM but doesn’t it make sense to provide services where people live? Are you saying that people should only live in big cities?

The problem, of which Walmart is a huge offendor, is SPRAWL. People don’t have to live in big cities, but way too much land use (for residential and commercial purposes primarily) is geared towards big huge lots, often with lots of open (but unused) space between them, that means everyone has to drive a long distance (often on clogged freeways) to get from A to B.

Outside of big cities, you can reduce that by zoning land for the size of lots you expect in cities and close-in suburbs.

But Walmart has never shown an interest in building in those areas. The habitually look for a big vacant area, open a store there, and compete with (and often put out of business) the established businesses in the communities within a 10+ mile radius.

That’s had the affect of people no longer travelling, e.g., 5 miles to do their shopping. Now they have to go 10 miles. Those added miles put out by tailpipes are arguably a bigger environmental problem than how they manage the utilies in their store.

Posted by: Steve K at April 19, 2006 1:55 PM
Comment #141725

I live on a one acre lot with my nearest neighbor a quarter mile away. There is no zoning and I can do anything I want.
If I wanted to live on a postage stamp and be told what I can or can’t do with my land I’d live in town or some other place where busybodies can make people live like they think they should.
Wal- Mart doesn’t cause “sprawl”. The “big, vacant areas” they look for are in places being developed whether they are there or not.

Posted by: traveller at April 19, 2006 2:31 PM
Comment #141733
I live on a one acre lot with my nearest neighbor a quarter mile away. There is no zoning and I can do anything I want. If I wanted to live on a postage stamp and be told what I can or can’t do with my land I’d live in town or some other place where busybodies can make people live like they think they should.

No one is telling you how you should live. I’m just pointing out that there are myriad environmental consequences to that choice. Certainly living on a one acre lot with neighbors far away is very appealing. I’d like to live like that myself (unless the nearest neighbor was a smelting plant). But I don’t, I live in a ‘suburb’, but it is dense enough so that, when I need something, I can walk to the market rather than drive.

Wal-Mart doesn’t cause ‘sprawl’. The ‘big, vacant areas’ they look for are in places being developed whether they are there or not.

Walmart does not cause sprawl but they do contribute to it. Just like one car does not cause a traffic jam, but they all contribute to it.

Posted by: Steve K at April 19, 2006 3:08 PM
Comment #141809

Nice idea but, what about all the BIG Box Stores they leave behind when they move again. The road construction put in just for them, all the tail-gating food stores that build up, only to be left adandoned when Wal Mart decides it want’s to SUPER size.

I’ve live in 29 small towns ove my life, and I’ve seen more vacant stores built by Wal-Mart and left over vacant smaller stores that were in what was once a downtown.

That’s another reason I drive 50 miles to a larger TOWN, not a City but a town to get away from supporting our local Wal-Mart.

Posted by: Linda H. at April 19, 2006 8:42 PM
Comment #141861

The one thing I’ve never seen is a WalMart 10 - 15 miles from the nearest housing development. WalMart doesn’t build usually until the area has been being developed for a least a year. Then they put in a store and the folks in that area don’t have to drive 10 - 20 miles to get to a WalMart. Sounds like good business sense to me.
Most the businesses in this county aren’t in direct competition with WalMart. And there isn’t one in this county. There is one one over in Valdosta though. It really hasn’t effected the stores here that are in direct competition with them much. The mall over there has done more damage to local business than WalMart.
However, I would be opposed to a WalMart in this county. Until WalMart can get back to their former way of buying only American products and get some quality in them I don’t want one of them things here.

Posted by: Ron Brown at April 20, 2006 12:00 AM
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