News & Politics

Wal-Mart CEO: It's Not Easy Being Green

There's no way Wal-Mart can fix the irreparable harm they've caused to our planet in such a short span of time, if ever.
Surprise, surprise! At this week's ECO:nomics conference in California, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott declared, "We are not green." This after the world's largest (and worst) retailer spent the last three years touting its environmental stewardship. Though Scott was unusually candid about Wal-Mart's inability to "green" themselves up, his admission only validates what many environmentalists already knew : There's no way Wal-Mart can fix the irreparable harm they've caused to our planet in such a short span of time, if ever.

Not too long ago, Scott pledged that Wal-Mart's massive "greenup on aisle five" would include investing $500 million in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing truck-fuel efficiency, reducing packaging, and creating more energy-efficient stores. What's more, Scott vowed to pressure Wal-Mart's global suppliers to follow their new responsible lead. But could they really have zero waste? Or use 100 percent renewable energy?

These goals seemed so lofty that it didn't shock me when I read that Wal-Mart isn't green, or that Scott answered a question about when a complete green overhaul might happen by saying, "I have no idea when that will be." What I found particularly troubling though was when Scott started talking about what waste meant to him and the company. He was talking about bottled water. After pointing out the tragic irony that there was bottled water right there at the conference on environmental capital, Scott explained why Wal-Mart continues to sell bottled water , "We have to stay in business... If the customer wants bottled water, we're going to sell bottled water."

While Wal-Mart may be working to reduce their carbon footprint, it became clear that to Scott, reducing waste means making money, not fulfilling an environmental promise. "It really is about how you take cost out, which is waste," Scott concluded. Let's face it, Wal-Mart has engaged in greenwashing here and we've fallen for it, hoping that the world's largest retailer would miraculously grow a conscience. Instead, Wal-Mart has only distracted environmentalists from the company's woeful record while they pursue their bottom line--cutting costs and making profits. We should've known something was up when the NGOs that Wal-Mart looked to for advice on sustainability made the company guarantee anonymity so that these groups wouldn't jeopardize their enviro-credibility when things went south.
ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.
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