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Grading Wal-Mart

Who doesn’t love a friendly debate? Here, we’ve put Wal-Mart’s recently issued sustainability progress report up against that of a group calling itself the Big Box Collaborative, a consortium of watchdog groups. You may recall that in October 2005, Wal-Mart committed to three large sustainability goals: to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment. We’ve provided excerpts from each side as they summarize a couple of the big issues. Remember, we’re just the messenger:

On employee pay and benefits:

WM: At the global, national and regional levels, we pay Associates competitive wages and we find that the jobs we offer are truly needed

BBC: Wal-Mart’s CEO claims his vision for sustainability goes beyond green products to “people who live sustainable lives.” In reality, the company continues to squeeze workers and suppliers in a global “race to the bottom” in wages, benefits and working conditions.

On carbon neutrality:

WM: Ultimately, we see our carbon footprint as extending beyond our own buildings and trucks to include our suppliers and customers. By doing so, we could have a net negative effect on absolute carbon.

BBC: According to the Institute for Policy Studies and Friends of the Earth, the company’s supply chain creates more than 40 times the emissions the firm says it is aiming to eliminate. Combined with emissions from its retail operations, Wal-Mart’s greenhouse gases are the equivalent of about half the amount produced annually by France.

On the role of organics:

WM: Providing our customers with affordable access to items they want – such as organically grown produce and fair trade coffee – is another focus of our efforts.

BBC: The vast majority of all organic farmers and food marketers operate with high organic integrity. Wal-Mart’s interest in cashing in on organic’s stellar reputation—on the cheap—places ethical retailers, their suppliers, and organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

On Wal-Mart’s new packaging scorecard, which seeks to reduce packaging by 5% by the year 2013:

WM: With more than 60,000 suppliers around the world, the impact of this 5 percent reduction could be equal to removing 213,000 trucks from the road and preventing 66.7 million gallons of diesel fuel from being burned, per year. Not only will this benefit the environment, but it could save our supply chain more than $3.4 billion.

BBC: While we have seen improvements in Wal-Mart’s packaging designs, we have not yet seen how the new Packaging Scorecard will address fiber sourcing and how it will drive sustainable packaging down through the retailer to its suppliers and ultimately down to the forests of origin around the world.

On community impact:

WM: As we grow, we want to ensure that we do so in a way that is in tandem with the needs of our customers and communities. We want to work harder to ensure that our real estate process looks at both the quantity and quality of the stores we are developing and takes into account the desires of the community.

BBC: Wal-Mart’s massive scale undermines the small, independent businesses that form the fabric of healthy, sustainable communities. And despite the company’s claims to the contrary, numerous studies indicate that Wal-Mart destroys more jobs when it comes into a community than it creates.