Wal-Mart to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution by 2015

What do you think of the sustainability efforts of the retail giant? Our guest blogger is Sarah Collins, intern with CAP’s Energy Opportunity team at the Center for American Progress.

In 2009, Wal-Mart received the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment award for Corporate Energy Efficiency.  To build on this success, Wal-Mart just announced its new sustainability goal: to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from the supply chain by 2015.  This amount, roughly equivalent to the company’s total corporate emissions last year, is “the equivalent of taking more than 3.8 million cars off the road for a year.”  Efforts to reach this goal involved extensive collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund, ClearCarbon Inc., the Carbon Disclosure ProjectPricewaterhouseCoopers, and the University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center.

Mike Duke, President and CEO of Wal-Mart, noted that the carbon reduction goal represents one and a half times the carbon growth of the company over the next 5 years.  He said this effort would help customers because “there are millions more people around the world who want to save money so they can live better.”  Duke adds:

Reducing carbon in the lifecycle of out products will often mean reducing energy use. That will mean greater efficiency and, with the rising cost of energy, lower costs, making our business stronger and more competitive. And, as we help our suppliers reduce their energy use, costs and carbon footprint, we’ll be helping our customers do that same thing.

Senior Vice President of Sustainability for Wal-Mart, Matt Kistler, explained how the efficiency measures will play out in several key target areas:

Over the next five years we’re going to be focusing on certain categories, certain businesses where the biggest opportunity exists, where it’s the most efficient and most cost-effective to remove that greenhouse gas from that supply chain. Whether it be in apparel, whether it be in food, whether it be in home line products, we’re looking at the category of products where there’s great opportunity, but where its at a low cost to remove.

Wal-Mart’s latest environmentally-friendly initiative builds on several years of its investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Wal-Mart introduced three goals in 2005: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.  Their work accelerated in 2006 when Wal-Mart made a big push to go organic and embrace other environmentally friendly policies.

Their sustainability goals include designing and opening, a “viable store prototype that is 25-30 percent more energy efficient and will produce up to 30 percent fewer GHGS emissions,” as well as “reduc[ing] greenhouse gases at”¦ existing store, club and distribution center bases around the world by 20 percent by 2012.”

Another focus is increased truck fleet fuel efficiency.  In 2008, Wal-Mart achieved a fleet efficiency improvement of 38%, beating the 25% target.  In addition to this, by reducing “empty miles” driven and maximizing space in trailers, trucks logged 87 million fewer miles, saving 15 million gallons of diesel fuel.  Increasing fuel efficiency allowed the company to avoid emitting 200,000 metric tons of CO2, drive 7 percent fewer miles, and save nearly $200 million in 2009.

Wal-Mart is well on its way to its goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy production.  The company currently boasts 29 solar installations, which generate up to 32 million kilowatt hours of energy per year and prevent 22,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually.

Its current wind capacity provides up to 226 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, enough to provide 15 percent of the electricity for 350 stores and facilities in Texas and avoid the production of 139,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year.  Wal-Mart hopes to expand its wind electricity by testing 17 small wind turbines mounted on light poles in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club in Palmdale, California.

Labor, human rights, and environmental organizations have raised legitimate concerns about Wal-Mart business practices over the years.  At the same time, the world’s largest publicly traded company is implementing a very aggressive clean energy plan.  More remains to be done, of course, but Wal-Mart’s transformation demonstrates that a clean energy future is technically and economically achievable.

Wal-Mart is a supporter of the Center for American Progress.

Sarah Collins is a graduate of the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

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18 Responses to Wal-Mart to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution by 2015

  1. Sou says:

    Good one! This sort of action could even seep into the consciousness of many people rather more than the journalists’ goings on.

    Coincidentally, I’ve just come from a website of one of the largest retailers in Australia which is aiming for its hardware chain to be 100% carbon neutral by 2015. It’s using hybrid vehicles, installing LED lighting, solar and wind power demo projects etc in its chain of hardware shops amongst other things.

    Wesfarmer’s Bunnings carbon and water savings

  2. fj2 says:

    Really good stuff.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil — a Quick and Revealing Comparison

    According to the 2009 Fortune 500 listing, Wal-Mart is the second largest U.S.-headquartered company (by their measures) and ExxonMobil is the largest.

    Now let’s consider greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, etc.).

    Wal-Mart has announced that it will try to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution by 2015.

    That is slightly more than 44 billion pounds of greenhouse gas pollution.

    Meanwhile, every year, the use of ExxonMobil products generates well over One TRILLION pounds of carbon dioxide alone. The figure is substantially more if you also include ExxonMobil’s internal operations, and the figure is even much more if you include other greenhouse gases.

    So, the entire savings being sought from the operations and supply chain of Wal-Mart is about one twenty-fifth of the amount of CO2 generated by the use of ExxonMobil products alone, aside from what’s generated internally by ExxonMobil and aside from other greenhouse gases.

    That means, for example, that 4% growth on ExxonMobil’s part, in ONE year, would wipe out all of these savings that Wal-Mart is nobly trying to make. It also means that WalMart’s savings would have to accumulate for 25 years in order to total about the same amount as ExxonMobil products generate in a single year.

    I’m not trying to demean Wal-Mart’s efforts. Instead, I’m trying to put this into perspective and suggest that it might be wise to place a HUGE SPOTLIGHT — an INSISTENT SPOTLIGHT — and an analytic and honest one — on ExxonMobil. Soon!

    Also, consider this: Wal-Mart employs over 2 million people worldwide, including well over a million in the U.S.

    Meanwhile, last I checked, ExxonMobil employs only about 80,000 people worldwide (that was the 2008 number).

    Indeed, there is a revealing asymmetry here, in an important sense: Wal-Mart employs twenty-five times as many people as ExxonMobil employs. Yet, the use of ExxonMobil products alone generates twenty-five times more greenhouse gas pollution each year when compared to the amount that huge Wal-Mart will be striving to save from its operations and supply chain. (And again, the actual number is much higher: This figure merely compares the CO2 generated by the use of ExxonMobil products with the Wal-Mart savings figure for all greenhouse gases. The better comparison would be to compare ExxonMobil’s full greenhouse gas figure, generated internally and from the use of products.)

    Also, to be clear, ExxonMobil won’t even tell the public how much carbon dioxide is generated when its products are used in their normal uses. I’ve asked, and they won’t tell.

    Please, let us place some well due and very overdue pressure on ExxonMobil. Otherwise, we may as well give up and go to the beach.

    Be Well,


  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    Three Questions …

    With all due respect to Wal-Mart (I am pleased to hear about their efforts) and also to CAP (and given that Wal-Mart is a CAP supporter), I have three questions …

    1. Will Wal-Mart still be selling gasoline to consumers at its stores?

    2. How much gasoline does Wal-Mart sell to consumers each year? (a figure in gallons would be fine, thanks)

    3. Does Wal-Mart buy gasoline from ExxonMobil (for sale to consumers), and if so, how much?

    I am hoping that Wal-Mart will be forthright and transparent with us on these questions, given their admirable moves and aim to be an excellent corporate citizen. And, I’m hoping that CAP will follow up and be able to provide these figures. I applaud CAP, of course, for its normal insistence on transparency, and the only fair way to understand and judge these sorts of efforts (on the part of companies such as Wal-Mart) is to understand what they are and aren’t doing.

    Thanks, and Cheers,


  5. Peter Bellin says:

    With all due respect, the discussion of Exxon Mobile is off the mark. Of course an oil company product will be responsbile for huge carbon emissions.

    Wal Mart’s efforts to reduce impact is worth recognizing. If they do select for sale products that generate low emissions and are produced in a way that minimizes emissions, that is a good thing.

    I would like to know that their sustainability goals would include sourcing purchases from the US, or from local producers.

    I hope that discussion of this thread focuses on the efforts of one retail chain to both minimize its environmental impact, and help its customers minimize theirs. Perhaps, if WalMart sets a good example, other retail merchants can follow their lead.

  6. _Flin_ says:

    Increasing fuel efficiency allowed the company to […] save nearly $200 million in 2009

    This is the important thing! Saving CO2 and being energy efficient equals cash!

    That is the message that belongs to the headlines. Energy efficiency = more profit, better competition, more jobs.

    If the USA don’t listen to that, well, the industries from other will.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Be Clear, and In Response To Peter’s Comment 5,

    I’m not saying, of course, that Wal-Mart’s efforts aren’t good and notable. They sound good, as far as I can tell. To be accurate, however, I haven’t followed Wal-Mart’s statistics, and I’m not a retailing expert, to know enough to say whether I think these efforts are great, are pretty good, or don’t go nearly far enough.

    And of course, I hope other retailers get with it, too.

    That said, sticking to the direct point, the questions I posed in my Comment 4 have directly to do with Wal-Mart, and I hope Wal-Mart will be kind and transparent enough to answer them.

    The larger point, in my Comment 3, has to do with context and is aimed at hoping that we will place due focus on ExxonMobil. (There is no “e” at the end of that.) When the noble and difficult efforts of the country’s largest retailer can barely make a small dent in the problem when compared to the products of ExxonMobil, that is one crystal clear way of realizing that we should place a great deal of emphasis on ExxonMobil, yes?

    It’s just mathematics.



  8. fj2 says:

    Just as much closer integration and leveraging off natural systems makes good economic and practical sense for Walmart — a corporation of incredible scale and success — the common wisdom will similarly migrate to fully entrench these tremendous advantages throughout a new much more utopian civilization.

  9. Fran Grant says:

    Walmart is run by conservative management. They use capitalism and savings to motivate best practices. One inside example is they do not paint sheetrock in the new stores in areas outside of customer contact. It saves paint. It saves labor. It saves money for thousands of stores. It prevents release of VOC’s (volitile organic compounds from drying paint) It saves fuel from shipping many truckloads of paint. It saves time.

  10. Ryan T says:

    Whatever their motivations, it’s a good start. But a lot of emissions are on the demand side, especially with companies like ExxonMobil. So absent a carbon pricing and long-term incentive system that addresses externalized costs, it’s entirely down to an informed public and what they choose to support. Which at current gas prices seems to be consumption as usual. For example, most of my neighbors have at least one heavy truck or SUV used as a primary mode of transportation. And not a hybrid in sight.

  11. It is marvelous that Wall Mart is working so hard to cut its carbon footprint. However, putting wind turbines in urban areas, and especially in parking lots with lots of people, is dangerous. As previously manager of the state wind program I know about this danger. Here is a letter I sent to the Chair of the California Energy Commission about the desire of SF to put wind turbines in the city:
    Wind energy is dangerous in urban areas

    Karen Douglas
    Chairman, California Energy Commission
    1516 Ninth Street
    Sacramento, CA. 95814-5512
    October, 5, 2009
    Dear Chairman Douglas,
    As an environmental scientist I am for using alternative energies where they are practical and safe. I would like to bring to your attention a possible danger for the public in San Francisco from an undesirable approach to alternative energy.
    I read that Mayor Newsom of San Francisco wants to install small wind generators on top of buildings across this lovely city. This is a very dangerous approach. CEC should look into it and alert other state agencies to investigate this situation.
    When I led the pioneering Wind Energy program of the California Energy Commission, when we broke the barrier to commercializing wind energy, we carefully analyzed all options. It was very clear that wind turbines should be used in large wind farms away from population to be cost-effective and safe too.
    Wind turbines should not be placed near population both for safety and practicality. First, wind strength is unpredictable, and can gusts to very high levels sometimes breaking blades. Think about the people of San Francisco on the streets below. In addition, so much more green energy can be “obtained” by conservation that cost maybe one tenth as much. That means we can do ten times as much for each available dollar.
    Again, I am all for alternative energies. It is critical to reduce greenhouse gases as fast as possible, and conservation is the fastest way possible while providing many local jobs for the multitudes of unemployed. But we should not endanger the public in this process to the extent that this program may.
    Dr. Matania Ginosar
    Environmental Scientist and Electrical Engineer

  12. Wal-Mart understood a long time ago how much profit there was in creating an efficient supply chain, and while so many other companies drag their feet on the issue of carbon footprint, Wal-Mart has made the connection that reducing waste, and energy, and packaging will help the bottom line.

  13. tinnitus says:


    Cool it. Take a pill. Lie down for a while. Give us a break.

  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    To tinnitus, Comment 13,

    Thanks for your comment, tinnitus.

    Allow me to ask, what do you suggest we do to address the climate change and energy problems? And, what are you doing? And, do you think that good and sufficient progress is being made?

    I trust and expect that Joe will screen my comments if, in his view, they don’t help. And, I don’t plan on doing this every day: If we don’t make substantial progress in some of these areas, soon, and if I feel that my comments aren’t doing any good, I’ll be happy to stop making them.

    Do you have other/better ideas?

    Cheers for now,


  15. Leland Palmer says:

    I think it’s great that Wal-Mart is working on corporate emissions, but we have to realize a few things about their basic business model.

    Firstly, their basic business model is to buy massive quantities of cheap Asian goods, ship those goods across the Pacific in container ships, and sell them half way around the world from where they were produced. Many of these goods were produced using Chinese coal fired electricity, which is very energy intensive.

    If those goods were produced locally, energy consumption might be less. If those goods were more durable, fewer of them would be required. If those goods were more functional, less stylish, and designed for recycling, this might also be helpful.

    I don’t really have much hope that the Wal-Mart model will be replaced by the “Mom and Pop” or the “local sustainable production” model, though.

    Some things that could be done:

    WalMart could pressure and partner with Chinese and Indian governments to build and use alternative energy technologies to produce these goods.

    Cargo ships could go slower, and so use less fossil fuels.

    Cargo ships could install modern sailing ship technology, decreasing fuel use.

    Cargo ships could run on charcoal, or a charcoal fuel oil slurry, making them partially or completely carbon neutral.

    Cargo ships could delay sailing until wind and weather conditions are favorable, by increased use of warehousing, perhaps.

    Stores could install solar panels, like these from First Solar:

    Wal-Mart has tremendous wealth, and tremendous buying power. They could become one of First Solar’s main customers, and buy big blocks of panels for their stores. And First Solar’s panels are getting down around a dollar per watt in cost. Another competitor to First Solar is Nanosolar, also starting to produce solar panels at a dollar per watt or less:

    They could even sell such thin film solar panels in their stores.

    So, there are many things that WalMart

  16. Leland Palmer says:

    Whoops, finishing the above:

    So there are many things that Wal-Mart could do, and they are doing some of them.

    Corporations need to move beyond “greenwash” to real substantial verifiable reductions. Wal-Mart is doing this, but could certainly do more, IMO.

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, another thing- cargo ships could go to gas turbine/ steam combined cycles, and double their fuel efficiency.

  18. Leif says:

    Leland, #17: Cargo ships could slow down somewhat and do the same with zero investment. This action would also save many whales a year from being “T-boned.”