Green Lightbulbs

Few products are such clear environmental winners. That’s why Wal-Mart chief executive officer Lee Scott has vowed to sell 100 million of them by next year. It’s an ambitious goal, part of the retail giant’s bid for a new “green” image. The company also aspires to use 100 percent renewable energy; create zero waste; and sell products that “sustain our resources and environment,” Scott pledged in 2005.

Those are lofty goals, raising skepticism among many environmentalists. There’s reason to doubt, given Wal-Mart’s questionable land-use practices and uneven treatment of workers. But the company seems to be moving in the right direction environmentally. It’s seeking energy efficiency from individual stores, working on its truck fleet gas mileage, reducing product packaging, and promoting organic farming.

“What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this Earth an even better place for all of us: customers, associates, our children, and generations unborn?” Scott asked in his October 2005 address to employees.

Imagine if it did. Wal-Mart operates 6,600 stores in 13 countries. It reaches 176 million customers weekly. It influences the behavior of more than 60,000 suppliers. The impact on the planet could be momentous.

“One million environmentalists beating a drum couldn’t get Wal-Mart’s results,” says Gwen Ruta, director of corporate partnerships for the advocacy group Environmental Defense.

Her group and another, the Natural Resources Defense Council, are helping Wal-Mart develop its environmental conscience.

They’ve seen the light. Environmental Defense maintains an unparalleled buyer’s guide on compact fluorescents, complete with a cost-savings calculator. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Energy has been trying for seven years to get consumers to “Change a Light, Change the World.”

Yet it will take a Wal-Mart to mass-educate consumers, many of whom still think fluorescents come only in long tubes. Many don’t know they’ll fit almost any socket, use 75 percent less electricity, last 10 times longer, produce 450 pounds fewer global-warming gases and save them $30 over the life of each bulb.

Wal-Mart should teach them, then move on to promoting other environmentally friendly products. It can do its part for the environment – one smiley face item at a time.

Editorial | Wal-Mart Goes Green
This article appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 8, 2007.


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