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Wal-Mart leading by example?

Street sign for Wal*Mart Drive near Gordon, PennsylvaniaImage via Wikipedia

I spotted on the Wal-Mart site today that they are giving away 1m reusable shopping bags on April 19th (2008).

Why is that important? Well traditional shopping bags take up to 1,000 years to break down in the environment. Wal-Mart’s shopping bags are made from recycled materials and normally sell instore for $1. It is even more significant when you consider that Wal-Mart is the largest grocery retailer in the United States, with an estimated 20% of the retail grocery and consumables business.

Wal-Mart’s conversion to green is not new. In 2005 Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced that they was going to be a:

“good steward for the environment” and ultimately use only renewable energy sources and produce zero waste

Specifically he set the following aims for the company

  • reduce energy by 20% in existing stores and 30% in new stores in the next 7 years
  • increase fuel efficiency in Wal-Mart’s truck fleet (the 2nd largest fleet in the US) by 25 percent over three years and doubling it within 10 years
  • and cut solid waste from U.S. stores and Sam’s Clubs by 25 percent in three years

The 3 biggest uses of electricity in stores are heating/air-conditioning, lighting and refrigeration. To tackle these costs Wal-Mart:

  • painted the roofs of their stores white to reflect heat,
  • put smart skylights to harvest light and reduce lighting requirements and
  • put refrigerated goods behind glass doors with LED lighting

As yet, there is no word on how well Wal-Mart is doing to meet its aims but in a more recent announcement Lee Scott re-emphasised that

Wal-Mart’s goal is to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, create zero waste and sell products that are energy efficient

He also has a vision of shoppers coming to shop in Wal-Mart while their plug-in-hybrid cars recharge in the parking lot (from power generated from renewable sources).

With 1.2 million employees, Wal-art is the United States largest employer. Having the company CEO drive a message like this to the employees through changes in the stores and to their massive customer base through initiatives like the reusable bag giveaway helps remind people about the problems associated with rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.