by Allison Mayes
Retailing mega-chain Walmart can make as many pledges and promises as it sees fit to please its customers, but at the end of the day it really comes to what the studies show. Back in 2005, Walmart began publishing a Global Responsibility Report, which features various elements of greenhouse gas emissions and what Walmart is going to do to reduce its carbon footprint. At the time the company claimed it would take on the challenge and show other companies how lowering green house gas emissions was done right. Later in 2010, Walmart said it would slash emissions produced in their supply chain, followed the next year with a promise to eventually convert over to renewable energy.
However, reports show that the 18.9 million metric tons of green house gas Walmart produced in 2005 jumped up to 21.5 million metric tons in 2011. The 2012 report was also disappointing especially since Walmart hyped it up and claimed to have made major progress in the fight against greenhouse gases. The actual reality was that they only cut their emissions by 1.3 percent, which should be seen as part of a larger pattern throughout other emissions reports due to the mild winter. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the program that made the reports, says that Walmart’s emissions are high enough for it to qualify as one of the biggest polluters in the U.S., with more annual emissions than corporations such as Shell Oil Company, Dow Chemical, and CONSOL Energy.
What is particularly aggravating about the situation is that despite these revealing reports, Walmart still attempts to claim that they are indeed making huge progress and that they have documentation stating they have been doing better. However, such reports provided by Walmart did not include international pollution and focused only on the U.S greenhouse gas emissions. It is also worth noting that Walmart, who claimed they would take on the challenge of converting to renewable energy, has tried to explain that they have come across a few struggles, despite making $15.7 billion in 2012, with finding renewable energy that is affordable. It has yet to be a struggle, however, for other retails stores such as Whole Foods, Kohl’s and Staples, all of which produce more renewable energy than they actually use, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent rankings of retailers. While Walmart is not the only store that has been in the middle of a greenwashing scandal, what environmentalists and scientists are surprised about this year when it comes to Walmart’s is how they are continuing to give themselves praise as though they have made a big difference in the world of sustainability. The company has made another pledge to have 1000 solar power installments made to existing stores by the year 2020 but has yet to acknowledge whether they will go back and try to solve previous greenhouse emissions problems they were attempting to fix years ago. Environmental groups provide a counter-narrative by stating that Walmart is all talk and since they are one of the leaders in the industry they need to step up and really make a difference to cut back on their greenhouse gas admissions.
Walmart may not make any major changes anytime soon, but as the costs of energy goes up and the world continues to become polluted they will one day be forced into operating very differently. If they were to invest a little extra now for renewable energy it would pay off and make the long run much less stressful. But they do not see that yet and so it will be very important for consumers to not let Walmart believe they have actually come a long way in the sustainability world. As the consumers it is our job to let them know when we are not pleased and put pressure on them to make a change. In the case of Walmart, people just need to argue that objective studies do not validate Walmart’s claims and no one will believe them until there is proof that they are really making an effort to cut their emissions levels.
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Allison Mayes is serving an internship in the Sustainability Studies Program this Fall 2013 semester as a contributor and assistant editor of this blog as well as the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future (SSF) website project. A senior SUST major, Allison was a lead author of the Water section of the SSF project in 2011 and was part of the inaugural section of SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class that worked at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm in Cabrini-Green during the winter/spring of 2012.