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 Project, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 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