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Walmart Accused of Greenwashing

Walmart’s heavily-promoted sustainability initiatives have done more to improve the company’s image than to help the environment, according to research by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Since Walmart unveiled its sustainability campaign in 2005, the number of Americans with an unfavorable view of the company has fallen by nearly half, but its greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly, according to Walmart’s Greenwash.

The retail giant’s commitment to renewable energy is also called into question in the report. At its current pace, Walmart will need roughly 300 years to reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy, ILSR claims. As of 2011, Walmart was deriving only two percent of its U.S. electricity from its wind and solar projects, the report says.

Walmart’s Greenwash also criticizes the “little progress” the store has made towards its goal of developing the sustainability index for consumer products that it launched in 2009. The chain also regularly donates money to political candidates who “consistently vote against the environment,” according to ILSR.

Walmart responded to the report with a statement saying, in part, “Walmart is enthusiastically committed to our formidable goal of eliminating 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from our global supply chain by the end of 2015 and has taken the approach to generate as much positive impact as possible as quickly as possible.  The Walmart team – in partnership with EDF, CDP and Clear Carbon by Deloitte – evaluate all projects in order to be able to go after the biggest, fastest, most economical tons first.”

The company says it has eliminated 88,000 tons of greenhouse gases and identified projects with the potential to eliminate an additional 16 million tons of GHGs, and created a way for suppliers to suggest GHG reduction projects.

The company’s 2011 Global Responsibility Report said that Walmart has made steady year-to-year improvement towards its goals of creating zero waste, using 100 percent renewable energy and selling products that sustain people and the environment. Overall, the company has met 15 of its sustainability commitments.

But the report also showed the company to be slightly behind on its target of a 20 percent cut in emissions from stores, clubs and distribution centers by 2012, from a 2005 baseline. By the end of 2009, Walmart had reduced its GHG emissions by 10.6 percent.

Walmart aims to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from its global supply chain by the end of 2015.

In a second statement, the company added, “Like anything that Walmart pursues related to sustainability, our goals are ambitious. We didn’t necessarily know how we would achieve them, but we believed then and we continue to believe now that it was the right thing to do for our business and the environment.

“As we continue on our sustainability journey we will continue to strive for transparency by releasing our annual Global Responsibility Report in April, providing progress updates on our goals.”

Walmart has previously said that its sustainability goals are more about making money than about its brand image.

“If we as a company focus on waste, we can make Walmart a better company and at the same time, become a better citizen,” Chairman Lee Scott said at a conference in April 2010. “What Walmart has done is approach this from a business standpoint.”

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7 thoughts on “Walmart Accused of Greenwashing

  1. Walmart has company-wide employee commute program that promotes alternative transportation uses (e.g., carpooling, bicycling, transit, etc.). As commuter programs are gaining members, the GHG emissions are being reduced. Are these GHG emission from commuter programs being captured in the Walmart sustainability reports?

  2. Unfortunately, Walmart has made little strides in the sustainability of it’s workforce by continuing to paying unlivable wages and offering healthcare coverage that is not affordable. CSR goes beyond the atmospheric environment.

  3. I have an alternative heat system tested by NASA that has been heating thousands of homes
    in the Mid-west. “2012” is the 30th year they have been pouring out free heat continuously. I have made some improvements and can save Wal-Mart hundreds of millions for their cold belt stores. Tested and certified. 30 to 50% savings. Payback in months vs “never.” No grids or gov. Engineering & Test data upon request

  4. The article does not mention Wal Mart being fined recently for dumping hazardous waste (used car oil, old batteries). I think this goes against sustainability?

    I also would suggest they are greenwashing further with their 20M metric tonne reduction plan. If they have only “measured” 88,000 tonnes to date, the 19,912,000 tonnes remaining are a long way away…unless, greenwash alert, they are planning on including scope 3 reductions made by the supply chain?!? They are 440 on the list of 800 companies reporting carbon emissions, putting them in the group of “incomplete data and verified/unverified”.

  5. Walmart isn’t perfect, but I commend them for drawing focus to and attempting transparency in their environmental performance. They are doing more than other large retailers on this front. While the improvements Walmart has made in some areas are modest, the company operates at such a huge scale that even small improvements yield bigger results than a smaller company making large gains.

  6. Wal Mart’s sustainability claims are utterly bogus.

    Their sustainability campaign was launched in 2005. Since then …
    a) there has been no public progress on the Sustainability Index .. even the G20 moves faster!
    b) they still have serious worker rights problems;
    c) at the present rate it will take 300 years for the company to fully adopt renewable energy sources;
    d) no progress has been made on their habit of building on greenfield sites even when brownfield ones are available.

    The most stunning thing is that over the same period the number of Americans with a negative opinion of Wal Mart dropped from 38% to 20%.

    So the advertising campaign worked, but the sustainability bit didn’t.

    Where’s the independent journalism to put this right and keep the public informed?

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