No matter how much Walmart officials pander to liberals and their institutions, or how much they implement alternative energy gimmicks, or how much they earn fawning media attention for “corporate responsibility” and “sustainability” gestures, a giant segment of the political Left will still resent the retail giant.
Still, the descendants of Sam Walton and company executives try. Last week CEO of Walmart International, Doug McMillon, made the now-familiar pitch at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington. Not surprisingly, rather than emphasize Walmart’s historical approach to business (before 2005) – which espoused low costs due to bulk purchasing and supply chain hyper-efficiency – and how that has improved the lives of millions of people with limited incomes, McMillon instead highlighted the company’s “social impact.” His drivel was likely welcomed by the elitist Beltway audience.
Sadly, as Walmart expands globally, the Third World that hungers for freedom and economic development desperately needs the old way the company did business. But instead they are getting the new Walmart: helping people “in a more holistic manner;” promoting “social sustainability;” “creating zero waste;” selling products “that sustain people and the environment;” and becoming “supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.” McMillon drove his point home by showing off the LED lighting in a parking lot of one of its stores in Guatemala.
Much of the Third World already lives under nanny-state authoritarianism, justified by governments and their sanctioned businesses that claim to know better what people need rather than give customers what they really want and need. Will Guatemalans be allowed to purchase inexpensive incandescent light bulbs in coming years at Walmart, unlike U.S. citizens, or will they have to buy more expensive compact fluorescent bulbs (or LEDs) because it helps them more “holistically” and because it’s “better for their environment?”
Further highlighting Walmart’s shameless appeasement of liberals, the Christian Science Monitor – rerunning a post from a blog called Nourishing the Planet – reported how the retailer has instituted a $1 billion “sustainable agriculture policy.” The company says it plans to, simultaneously:
· Sell food grown on one million small and medium farms around the world
· Produce more food with fewer resources
· “Double the sale of locally purchased produce in the United States by 2015”
“Sustainability is a business strategy, not a charitable-giving strategy,” said Beth Keck, Walmart’s director of sustainability. “We’re thinking about sustainability from the customer’s point of view. We don’t want customers to have to choose between products that are sustainable or products that are affordable.”
The company’s forays into environmentalism were praised in a book released earlier this year titled Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Walmart’s Green Revolution, which came with a subtitle, How It Could Transform Business and Save the World. That top executives such as Rob Walton, Lee Scott, and Leslie Dach were portrayed as eco-heros likely emboldened them to continue down the Green path. Indeed, now Walmart plans to test the placement of wind turbines in the parking lots of a few stores to provide their own electricity. The fact that local zoning boards may not approve apparently is not a deterrent.
“The company’s direction is to go as green as it possibly can,” said Jason Blalack, assistant manager of the Lanoka Harbor, N.J., Walmart. “It can be anything from recycling to trying to get ourselves off the grid as much as possible. If we can do that by harnessing the power be it the sun or the wind, so be it.”
The adoption of wacky ideas by environmentalists hasn’t muted Walmart’s critics, however. This week the online eco-publication Grist began a month-long series of stories that will examine “Walmart’s Greenwash” and will explain “why the retail giant is still unsustainable.” “Greenwashing” is the allegation made by environmental groups that companies engaged in promoting practices they claim are eco-friendly, are really just putting a public relations spin on otherwise normal procedures or products. As Wikipedia explains, “The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being Green, rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices.”
The reporter for the Grist series, Stacy Mitchell, is a researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She alleges, and says she will prove in her articles, that Walmart’s efforts to become more sustainable are largely just talk and no action. Mitchell also charges that the mainstream media since 2005 has not held the company accountable, because they have not verified Walmart’s claims of eco-responsibility.
“Walmart circa 2005 is, in fact, long gone,” Mitchell writes. “Today’s Walmart is much, much bigger. It sells 35 percent more stuff in the U.S., and its international store count has almost tripled, from about 1,600 to 4,600 stores.”
And of Walmart’s renewable energy practices, Mitchell writes, “less than two percent of the company’s electric power in the U.S. comes from its wind and solar projects.” I guess putting wind turbines in their parking lots in the face of likely opposition counts for little with Green activists.
The way Walmart conducted business under Sam Walton, and largely the way it operated before 2005, kept the company, its vendors and providers, and its customers going just fine. Contorting the company’s policies and practices to try to satisfy a diverse number of anti-capitalists (what environmental groups really are), whose definitions of “sustainable” are equally diverse, is without question bad business.
If shareholders, the Waltons and CEO Mike Duke (in photo) really want to scrutinize company practices, they need to recognize that their way of doing business that has produced nine straight quarters of same-store sales declines is without question unsustainable.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.
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