I’m a bit late to this story, but a few weeks ago Wal-Mart pledged to cut 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from their supply chain by 2015. Catalyzing steps like this make it a lot harder for me, as a full-fledged environmentalist, to hate on Wal-Mart, though there are others who are doing so.
The greenhouse gases embodied within Wal-Mart’s products greatly outweigh the energy use associated with the stores themselves. Tackling the carbon intensity of the predominant part of a product’s lifecycle, its creation and delivery to retail stores, represents a crucial shift in thinking about how sustainability could be achieved through the framework of Wal-Mart’s incredibly large business.
Partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, Wal-Mart is voluntarily taking on the enormous task of reducing greenhouse gases down the supply-chain. What I really like about the goal is that an independent educational research organization will devise the methodologies to make reductions, Wal-Mart will implement them, a third party will analyze the numbers, and a major accounting firm will verify that all procedures were followed consistently to guarantee reductions actually occurred. This is an awful lot like how carbon offsets are created in a high-quality voluntary market, and gives me a lot of confidence that these reductions are real.
It can be easy to dismiss Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiatives as window dressing, but the effects of achieving this goal would be tremendous. Because of its market share, even those who refrain from buying at Wal-Mart will likely see lower carbon-intensity products at other retailers, which is unquestionably a good thing. I’m impressed by Wal-Mart for looking past efficient lighting fixtures in their stores to the products that light falls on.