What can the world's biggest retailer do to make a greener planet?
A lot -- or so Wal-Mart is saying. The giant retailer has a superambitious, and controversial, plan to cut not only its own impact on the globe but also that of its suppliers and customers. Tour a 'green' Wal-Mart
As with everything else Wal-Mart does -- the company rings up a whopping $355 billion in sales -- the consequences could be huge.
Take just one small piece: Wal-Mart has installed auxiliary-power systems in its fleet of 18-wheelers so that drivers don't have to keep their engines idling to run the air conditioning when the trucks are stopped.
The result? Try $25 million off Wal-Mart's costs every year. And the 100,000-ton-a-year savings in greenhouse gases from these trucks? That's the environmental equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the roads.
That's just the beginning. By 2015, Wal-Mart intends to double the fuel efficiency of its new heavy-duty trucks. That move alone, between now and 2020, would keep about 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air and save the company $300 million a year. Wal-Mart trucks power down
The company is changing a lot more than its trucks. Janelle Kearsley, the retailer's director of corporate strategy and sustainability, says Wal-Mart started looking hard at its energy use, waste and product sustainability two years ago. The company discovered it could do a lot better.
"We thought we were efficient already," she says. "But once we started asking questions, we found even simple things that have great benefits."
For instance: Replacing incandescent bulbs in all the ceiling fans on display in the company's stores reaped savings of $7 million a year. Now Wal-Mart is using in-store displays to promote compact fluorescent bulbs to consumers, and has sold over 100 million of them - more than one per customer - saving enough energy to run a city the size of Philadelphia.
The company is also recycling its own plastic bags and encouraging shoppers to bring theirs in, too. It's working with suppliers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sell more-energy-efficient electronics. It's already buying shrimp from sustainable fisheries and aiming by 2010 to sell only sustainable seafood.
The list goes on, although some innovations are still in the test stage. Wal-Mart now carries concentrated detergents in smaller packages (result: less packaging waste), as well as organic-cotton sheets and