Greenwash of the Month: Walmart Fails to Deliver on Sustainability

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The other day, we wrote about how Walmart is Behind the Curve on GMOs. According to a recent report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) shows that safer food is not the only sustainability issue the company is behind on.

Remember that whole ‘green’ stint that Walmart had going there for a while?  You know, the ad-heavy campaign with commercials and billboards about the company’s new ‘green efforts’?  Walmart sells organics! they told us.  Walmart will deliver 100% of its energy from renewable sources!  Walmart is developing a Sustainability Index to rate consumer products!

Well, it looks like they haven’t quite delivered on these.

Lots of promises were made.  And surprisingly, even some usually skeptical environmentalists hopped on the Walmart bandwagon.  Some environmental organizations held the idea that the world’s largest retailer isn’t going away, so anything it does to reduce its footprint is a good thing.  One otherwise hardcore environmental activist remarked to me that, compared to many corporations, he actually liked Walmart, because the company was ‘actually making strides to be more sustainable, carrying organic products” among other things.

In 2005, the big box chain was facing widespread criticism for its history of mistreating workers and suppliers, with 38% of Americans holding an unfavorable view of the retailer.  Then Walmart launched its Sustainability public relations effort, hoping to play on Americans’ environmental concerns to gain public support.

According to the  ILSR report, Walmart’s Greenwash, the strategy worked. Since Walmart launched the campaign in 2005, the number of Americans with an unfavorable view of the company was cut by nearly half, from 38 to 20 percent. Moreover, Walmart U.S. sales have increased by 35% since 2005.

In the “Walmart’s Greenwash” report, key findings include:

-Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly; the company currently derives just 2% of its U.S. electricity from its wind and solar projects.  At its current rate of adoption, Walmart will need roughly 300 years to reach its goal of 100% renewable energy.

-With its share of U. S. grocery sales at 25 percent and growing, Walmart is driving further consolidation and industrialization in our food supply, harming the environment and small-scale agriculture.

-Walmart has made little progress toward its goal of developing a Sustainability Index to rate consumer products.

-Walmart has not addressed the habitat and climate impacts of its land development practices. The retailer continues to build sprawling stores on undeveloped land, often just a few miles from older, vacated Walmart stores.

Meanwhile, Nowhere near enough to match the scale of the company’s operations and monstrous greenhouse gas emissions.

Clearly, Walmart was more concerned about publicizing its sustainability campaign than actually working to fulfill the campaign’s goals. A supreme example of a failed sustainability effort.

It’s obvious that for Walmart, sustainability is solely a growth strategy—and an ultimate greenwash.

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Ali manages the website and coordinates the online communications of CEH. She works with the communications and development staff to create messaging strategies and public education content for CEH’s supporters and online audience. A Bay Area native, Ali attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received a B.A. in Sociology and Cultural Studies. This allowed her to live abroad in Argentina, where she studied Latin American history and learned valuable Spanish language skills. Ali is thrilled to be part of an organization that advocates for healthy communities so effectively.