In 2005 Walmart threw its critics a curveball by announcing plans to transform itself into one of the greenest corporations in the world. Among its goals were “to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy” and to “create zero waste.”
In some ways, the initiative makes perfect sense for a company like Walmart. Sustainability ultimately means efficiency: being as productive as possible with minimal waste. This has led to innovations like reducing packaging or selling toilet paper without cardboard rolls in the middle. What’s most encouraging for environmental activists about this initiative is the vast size and power of Walmart, and the ripple effect its sustainability program could have on the global economy. If the world’s most influential corporation is taking sustainability seriously, even for self-interested reasons, it has the power to affect real change in away that only governments have previously been able to do.
At the same time, true sustainability isn’t just about picking low-hanging fruit like excess packaging. It requires serious upfront investment in new technologies and other efforts that would likely lead to higher prices for consumers. And while environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund have gotten on board with Walmart’s efforts, other critics see the program as a halfhearted publicity stunt.
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