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Out of Our Minds
Friday, January 13, 2006 11:10 AM
Where's The Big Idea?
Martin Flaherty on Business

In the past I've pointed
others to environmental strategists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus'
paper entitled: The
Death of Environmentalism
(DoE) as a way to jar them into
thinking in a new way about environmentalism. One of the ideas DoE suggests
is we support a new Apollo Project
(The Apollo Alliance)
on energy similar to the 1960's moon mission.

While that argument rages, take a look at the world's biggest
retailer and their version of an Apollo Project. WalMart is undertaking a
series of environmental
actions that will change a host of industries and possibly the definition
of a big box store. In October of 2005, CEO Lee Scott announced
a host of initiatives
that would warm the heart of any environmentalist.
Among them are such items as investing $500 million annually in technologies
and innovation that will
help reduce
greenhouse gases at all existing stores by 20% over the next seven years.
Increased fleet efficiency by 25% by 2008, reduce solid waste by 25% from
U.S. stores
and clubs over the next three years. WalMart is also starting to sell some of
their house brand products using organic cotton and vegetables (albeit on
a limited basis). They have also committed to replacing PVC packaging for
their private brands within the next two years.

Finally, they have gathered
all of their suppliers and informed them that they will have to take back
when their product arrives at a WalMart store. In effect, WalMart will
drive a massive systems change in materials usage in manufacturing.

I'm watching this one very closely. I realize WalMart's timing on this commitment
is more than just coincidental. But if WalMart follows through, we will witness
a green minded sea-change in board rooms around the world.


martin - 1/18/2006 3:34:20 PM
Eli -
Nice input. In your first response you end with the hope that this will force other companies to jump on this bandwagon. Me to. I have presented to CEOs and executive leadership for years and have heard time and again that they didn't want to go first. They didn't want to stick their necks out. But if Wal-Mart moves then others will have to join in.

No arguments about overseas manufacturing. However, there is positive movement on that front as well. David Gottfried (USGBC and World Green Building founder) is one of many environmental thinkers and consultants spending long periods in Asia this year meeting with industry leaders who are asking how they can build environmentally responsible factories. Other global manufactures are systematizing sustainable resource acquisition practices as well. I really am amazed at what I'm seeing, hearing and learning is taking place.

I'm not sure about your 'Stink-Eye' (you may want to consult a Dr.) but I'm right there with you being a bit 'hinky'. However, there is movement. And it may very well be for the better.

Eli Johnson - 1/18/2006 1:07:14 PM
...and one more thing. 'In effect, WalMart will drive a massive systems change in materials usage in manufacturing.' That should be interesting to see how that unfolds considering that part of how overseas manufacturering hold their costs down is by their total lack of environmental concerns. How will Wal-Mart continue their low price aggression if these factories are required to adopt even minimal environmental standards that require them to upgrade their factories?? Is Wal-Mart requiring them to upgrade and not pass any of the cost along? I don't doubt that Wal-Mart can make that happen with their maufacturers since they call all the shots. Or is it a token statement and action only to be taken here?

I wish the giant, frothing, meglomaniac leopard was changing its spots, but it still seems hinky to me.

Eli Johnson - 1/18/2006 12:25:42 PM
I can't help but feel that the efforts are a hollow attempt to boost Wal-Mart's image. Especially considering that the majority of the products sold by Wal-Mart are manufactered in areas of the world that have no environmental standards at all. But perhaps this new effort will create more jobs in this country since Wal-Mart (and the subsequent tactics adopted by other companies to compete) have decimated our manufacturing sector.

Unfortunately, I can't get past that feeling that any grand noble effort on Wal-Mart's part needs to be viewed with 'The Stink-Eye'. Their overall record with employees, communities,and their own meglomania makes the Golden Arrow of being environmentally responsible seem suspicious.

We can only hope that because of their monetary stature that other companies jump on this band wagon to compete as quickly as they have in the past...
christ - 1/17/2006 9:00:51 AM
I think its a good thought and shoutld be implemented soon. http://www.find-plumbers.info
Harold - 1/16/2006 8:19:50 AM
A nice use of quotations on the words 'the masses' Janet. This ammused, albeit, humble observer can't help but assume you intended to include the word, unwashed. Or perhaps 'prol' ' would have been more appropriate.

I sense an unpleasant hubris creeping in shadows.

Living La Vida Harold!
martin - 1/14/2006 12:16:54 PM
Jane, embrace the queasy feeling. The beauty of these actions is they are all driven by the bottom line. When you can combine what is right with a stronger return on investment then you've just made every CFO the highest-ranking environmentalist in every organization. WalMart projects that 1-mile per gallon increased in their fleet will equal $52 million to their bottom line.

And in as much as I agree that there is much that needs to change, the ripple effect from this may cause the wave of change you seek.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 1/13/2006 6:47:02 PM
Interesting article. Just had this conversation, sort of, with an esteemed writer of this magazine. My point was that if the world could change, one person at a time, what a great impact we could make on issues such as this. So, that said, I feel a little like a contradiction in terms when I saw kudos to Walmart. I still won't shop there. Their work ethics are still depolorable in many parts of the world. And, let's be perfectly clear on this issue, the bottom line on the reason for change is their bottom line...always is. Don't confuse revenue savings with becoming good corporate citizens of the world: at least not yet. That said, if this becomes an issue that 'the masses' will realize is big enough for Walmart to take on than perhaps it's worth the queazy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Living la vida fearless, Jan www.tobeyourbest.net
mary - 1/13/2006 5:54:34 PM
i totally agree.
martin - 1/13/2006 1:08:04 PM
Catherine -

I share your squeamishness. But it's often the actions of the most unexpected that have the greatest impact. You're right, Nike has pushed hard and I'm going to look harder at Pressler's CSR edit.

BTW, the 1/9/06 WSJ, Journal Report had an interesting discussion on Corporate Social Responsibility. It's worth a read.
catherine howell - 1/13/2006 11:48:38 AM
Martin, very very valid point here. Sometimes it's the actions of the worst players (it doesn't hurt that they're the largest, either) that really moves the needle.

In the apparel world, I think Nike has already pushed hard in this direction, and now I think Gap has the chance, under CEO Paul Pressler's new CSR edict, to be an industry-changer. And that's what we're talking about here -- changing the norms of an industry out of a traditional mindset and into another.

(Why is it I feel so squirrelly applauding for Wal-Mart though? I wish I could feel cleaner about this.)


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