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Wal-Mart,and the environmental upside of being really, really big

Massive entities such as Wal-Mart naturally have a large impact on the environment. There’s a paradoxical benefit to this scale: small efficiencies that wouldn’t be worthwhile for others to undertake become meaningful when blown up to Wal-Mart-sized proportions.

Here’s a fun example. A Wal-Mart business card recently fell into our hands*:

Compare this with a standard business card:

In case there’s any doubt as to why Wal-Mart has teeny business cards, here’s the reverse side:

More substantively, Wal-Mart recently announced a plan to sell 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs in 2007. They’ll do so through aggressive in-store promotion and employee education.

This is where the company’s scale really comes into play. We’ve all heard the statistic about how if every American replaced one normal lightbulb with a CFL, we’d save so many kajillion watts of electricity every year. But it takes an organization with a lot of consumer reach to turn that statistic from factoid to fact.

If successful, the campaign will spare the emissions of 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking roughly 700,000 cars off the road.

As we’ve written about earlier, Wal-Mart sees its customer base as the area where it has the greatest leverage to effect positive environmental change. Let’s hope they make good on this strategy.

Update: I was talking to a journalist yesterday about Wal-Mart’s CFL initiative, and one of the issues that came up was how this affects Wal-Mart’s bottom line. I frankly have no idea — CFLs are more expensive than standard incandescent lightbulbs, but they also last far longer. They save money in the long-run due to their lower energy consumption, but of course that doesn’t affect Wal-Mart’s balance sheet.

My sincere hope is that Wal-Mart is making money on the program, or at the very least breaking even. I love green initiatives that actually pay for themselves, because they’re the most likely to be adopted, supported, and imitated.

* If you’re wondering whether we just tipped our hand regarding a future partnership with Wal-Mart: nope. This card was passed along to us by someone who picked it up at some kind of industry function. We’ve never talked to the guy.

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