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Wal-Mart boss says he will press suppliers in race to go green

From across the pond, The Guardian reports,

The chief executive of the world’s biggest retailer yesterday stepped up the pace in the race to be green with a series of initiatives to cut its own giant carbon footprint – and those of its suppliers, customers and staff.

The report further elucidates what Lee Scott, Walmart’s CEO has in mind about going green,

Mr Scott outlined his “Sustainability 360” campaign in London last night at a lecture to UK business leaders hosted by the Prince of Wales. He said the vast retailer, which is the world’s second biggest company after Exxon Mobil, was determined to make its merchandise “affordable and sustainable” so that customers could “do the right thing … for this planet”.

Editorializing within a news report is quite common at The Guardian – see if you can spot it:

Speaking to The Guardian before last night’s lecture Mr Scott insisted the new initiative was not part of a “greenwash” PR campaign to improve the image of Wal-Mart, which is regularly accused of crushing smaller rivals, squeezing suppliers and paying poverty wages to thousands of workers.

Nevertheless, if The Guardian editorializes, Lee Scott grasps and employs myth effectively:

Yesterday Mr Scott said the moment Wal-Mart decided to get serious about sustainability was when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The “desperate images” of the chaos, he said, “pushed us from a learning process into taking more aggressive action.”

Is it true that Hurrican Katrina devastated New Orleans? But we cannot let facts get in the way of a good grounding myth. I do believe that foundational myths (and here I’m using the word myth as deliberate falsehood rather than another usage which would be more along the lines of embellished legends or history) are quite necessary to creating a change in direction such as the one that Walmart is attempting to make here in going green. What it is is a good story?

t also provided a welcome boost to the store’s reputation when Wal-Mart staff opened stores to hand out food and drugs and the retailer’s relief trucks arrived in the flooded city before the US army. “Hurricane Katrina changed Wal-Mart forever,” Mr Scott told last night’s lecture.
In the wake of the hurricane he set three groundbreaking goals: to switch the entire group to using renewable energy; to achieve zero waste and to sell sustainable products. His new plan takes that further.


Now, I don’t think Walmart will ever get credit for the things that they did (in part because of an efficient supply chain that prepared for the aftermath of the storm just like retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes usually do) post Katrina because it is a symbol of something more than just “regularly accused of crushing smaller rivals, squeezing suppliers and paying poverty wages to thousands of workers.” A symbol of everything that is wrong with American capitalism, corporations etc?
Now, what is the meat of the story? If you want a flavor:

Mr Scott himself walks the talk, to an extent. His family car is a hybrid Lexus SUV but he crossed the Atlantic in a private Wal-Mart jet, one of a fleet of more than 20, with just four passengers on board.


Shame on Walmart! Ready to self-flagellate yet? Repent, warmers of the earth – you’re all that is wrong with the earth. Go forth and multiply and reduce thy carbon footprint.
So what were Walmart’s goals then and now:
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina,

In the wake of the hurricane he set three groundbreaking goals: to switch the entire group to using renewable energy; to achieve zero waste and to sell sustainable products.

And now,

Wal-Mart’s six path strategy focuses on its own environmental footprint and that of its 60,000 suppliers. It has big ambitions to cut the waste sent to landfill, build more energy efficient stores and take “a hard look at what is on our shelves”.
Work with just one toy supplier to reduce packaging, Mr Scott said, had meant it required 497 fewer containers to ship the same number of items, saving 3,800 trees, 1,000 barrels of oil and $2.4m (£1.6m) a year in shipping costs. “That’s just one supplier, just one product line and just 255 items,” he said.
Suppliers are being asked to cut their packaging by 5% by 2013, which Wal-Mart says will cut the number of truck journeys and save 67m gallons of diesel a year.

Sometime ago, some of the above would be attributed to the efforts of becoming a better supply chain company. Ofcourse, one of the benefits of being a better supply chain company is that it reduces or eliminates waste. Now, its fashionable to quantify those savings in terms of trees saved and carbon emissions reduced. Ok, to each his own. I would have just been satisfied with reducing waste in the supply chain.
But remember, there is no free lunch. The only question is, who will pay for this greening of the beast? Who, but the poor?

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