Wal-Mart: Going Green or Greenwashing?

As of 2005 Wal-Mart has publicly announced goals to make the mega store policies more environmentally friendly. They pledged to have all stores running off of 100 percent renewable energy, create zero waste and to make more environmentally friendly products. in 2007 Wal-Mart released their “sustainability 360″ storewide policies. While it appears as though Wal-Mart is turning a new leaf, there are still reports concerning their lack of eco-consciousness.

Wal-Mart’s environmental goals center around reducing waste, environmentally friendly packaging, offering environmentally friendly products, running stores off of renewable energy and generally becoming more energy efficient. Currently, there are 20 US Wal-Mart stores in California and Hawaii that run predominantly off of solar power with another 20-30 planned for 2010 in Arizona and California. These thin-film solar panels are expected to provide 20-30 percent of the store’s power needs (roughly 22.5 kWh) and will be designed, installed, maintained and owned by SolarCity. Wal-Mart is using both copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride thin film as it uses less raw materials than traditional panels, making less of an environmental impact. Wal-Mart is also hoping that other large retail stores will follow their lead and adopt these panels for on-site commercial use [Source: Treehugger]. Of course, Wal-Mart is diversifying their renewable energy sources and recently added wind power to their portfolio in 2009. In agreement to a four year power purchase agreement with Duke Energy in Texas, Wal-Mart has currently purchased 226 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy. As of 2010, approximiately 350 stores in Texas use wind-generated electricity [Source: Mother Nature Network]. Wal-Mart has also begun wind initiatives in Massachussetts and other countries like China and Japan. The company has also begun investing in fuel cells created by Bloom Energy. These fuel cells harness both air and fuel (natural gas, ethanol, biofuels). The oxygen ions react with the fuel. This process creates 60 percent less emission than a normal coal-fired plant. The fuel cells were used in two locations in California and were so successful that Wal-Mart is planning to add these boxes to ten more California facilities within the next year [Source: USA Today].

More important than running their stores off of renewable energy is reducing carbon emissions and overall waste. The 2005 environmental agreement forced Wal-Mart to make their fleet of delivery vehicles more fuel-efficient, and the company reports that it achieved a 38 percent increase in efficiency by:

  • installing fuel-saving technologies
  • loading trucks more efficiently
  • improving its routing system to eliminate empty miles traveled.

Wal-Mart has announced that they will eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015, a tall order for a store located in 70 different countries and suppliers around the world [Source: Mother Nature Network]. These suppliers, must also comply with Wal-Mart’s sustainable policies and energy efficiency standards such as:

  • Require factories around the world to certify compliance with laws and regulations where they operate as well as rigorous social and environmental standards by 2011.
  • Partner with suppliers to improve energy efficiency and use fewer natural resources by 2012.
  • Higher standards of product safety and quality — Wal-Mart aims to drive returns on defective merchandise virtually out of existence by 2012.
  • All direct import suppliers plus all suppliers of private label and non-branded products must provide the name and location of every factory used to make the products. The company will also have all suppliers it buys from directly to source 95 percent of their production from factories that receive the highest ratings on environmental and social practices by 2012 [Source: CSR Wire]

Besides emissions, Wal-Mart has also taken a zero-waste stance and have started implementing various programs. In 2008-2009 Wal-Mart successfully redirected more than 57 percent of the waste from its stores and Sam’s Club facilities, citing the “sandwich baling process” as the leading reason. This process compresses recyclable items between layers of cardboard, allowing Wal-Mart to over 200 million metric tons of waste. Wal-Mart has also gone the extra step in making sure items that do end up in landfills do no contain harmful chemicals such as PVC packaging, pesticides, BPA plastics and cleaning toxins [Source: Mint].

While Wal-Mart’s goals are admirable, however there is still little credibility, updated disclosures on completion of goals and no benchmarks against baseline figures. Many of the arguments center around the actual Wal-Mart model. Many of these stores run 24 hours a day, using up much more energy than the majority of other retail stores. The large parking lots are major contributors to “no point source” water pollution (US leading cause of water pollution) and it has been noted that the stores draw around 850 customers in cars per hour.  Most of these customers must also drive long distances since Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs are generally on the outskirts of town for space purposes [Source: Mint]. There has even been reports against Wal-Mart in relation to the handling and disposal of hazardous materials. Earlier in 2010, Wal-Mart was forced to pay $27.6 million to the government of California for violating these environmental laws. The incident began four years ago when a health inspector noted a Wal-Mart employee pouring bleach down a drain [Source: LA Times].

Overall, Wal-Mart’s steps to becoming more sustainable are admirable, the company has a long way to go to proving their committment to the environment. Despite arguments against the company, these changes are beginning to force other large retail stores to also change their environmental policies.

Jasmine Greene


Don Swanz
Don Swanz2 years ago

It's not a question of whether Walmart "can" but, rather if it "will".

This Post was originally posted almost four (4) years ago. Why in the world is it being reposted
without an "update". Don and I CAN! :-))

Nancy P.
Nancy P3 years ago

For Walmart it is only about money, this is a way for them to look "green" and bring in more customers through that. They still outsource to other countries, are not fair trade, treat their employees unfairly and force out small businesses. I will never be a Walmart shopper.

Linda Haggard
Linda Haggard6 years ago

Don't know how Walmart can say they have Texas stores supplied only with wind power. I live in Texas and can't get a provider that only uses wind power. As for less packing material, have you been in a store when they're stocking? I don't see any decrease in packing material.

Carol Cowbrough
Carol C6 years ago

Noted. Thanks.

Parag S.
Parag S.6 years ago

Green washing

Parag S.
Parag S.6 years ago

I think packaging is a big deal and if anything positive comes from this it's that venders will rethink the way they package goods. It's drives me crazy to have to buy a small supply item and find it packaged in giant shrink wrap or a box with unnecessary Styrofoam. Often extra packaging is simply to make shop lifting more difficult. If vendors need to revise packaging for Wal-Mart it will have a ripple effect.
Green washing

Lyn Redbird
Lyn henry6 years ago

Walmart going totally green?? Buahahaha! Not!

Christina Webb
.6 years ago

I'd Muster out a thanks but Walmart makes me cringe either way.

I suppose they will end up getting all kinds of kudos even though they are oversized and underpriced and too much overseas goods. I see no fair trade clothing, is it American Organic cotton.

If they were better at supporting America instead of taking away from our small-town quality of life i might say they are alright.

C. G.
C. G6 years ago


Susan T.
Susan T6 years ago

Chloe M - not sure what food products you usually buy at Walmart but you might want to research Community Share Agriculture in your area. You buy a "share" of a local farm's produce and get produce every wk thru the growing season. Sometimes you can get delivery of your share to your door or to a convenient location. In upstate NY there are dozens of CSA's - great, local produce, often organic. You reduce the carbon footprint by taking out the transport to a supermarket.

Also keep in mind - when you buy stuff you are essentially endorsing the store. Yes we all have to buy at big box stores sometimes - but think seriously about how often it is truly necessary.

Walmart has been a repeat offender on many levels, including treatment of their U.S. employees. Check out http://walmartwatch.com/pages/healthcare
Walmart lags way behind the national avg for big companies in health ins for employees. Walmart delays coverage, the plans hv high deductibles & hidden fees. SO a lot of workers opt out & go on Medicaid, for which you & I, the taxpayers, foot the bill. So we shop there, thinking we are saving money, Walmart posts huge profits, screw their workers & we pick up the bill for healthcare. BTW, in NYS at least, to qualify for Medicaid you need to gross LESS than $10,500 a year as a 2 person household - just chew on that for a moment that those people are working & that is what they earn. That's $100/wk each for 2 people.