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Environmental Defense’s Wal-Mart Job Announcement
Robert Katz, 18 Jul 06

Wal-Mart continues to be a big story in the environmental community. We’ve talked about the world’s biggest retailer before, most recently in the context of its move to sell organic food. That particular post prompted a flurry of comments...which makes me wonder, what will WC readers think about this: Environmental Defense is convinced that Wal-Mart is serious when it comes to greening the company, and it’s hiring staff to work directly with managers in Bentonville. The job description:

Primary responsibilities will be project development and management -- the incumbent will develop recommendations for changes to Wal-Mart operations and purchasing based on rigorous economic, financial, technical and environmental analysis, using advanced knowledge of corporate strategy, operations, and environmental management. Project outcomes must be practically and technically sound from a business and operational perspective, and yet aggressively address environmental concerns.

The job is with Environmental Defense – the position isn’t funded by Wal-Mart. This could be a great opportunity to engage directly with a company as it attempts to change the world. Or it could be another play in the greenwash chess match. I sincerely hope it’s the former – but before jumping to your own conclusions, check out the job posting.

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I am leery of WalMart for all sorts of reasons - they have more to answer for than just their environmental practices. But by god, when they move, the economy moves with them.
I think that their record of environmental initiatives is just too extensive to be considered greenwash any more. WC hasn't (to my knowledge) reported on this, for example, from April, 2005:

“Wal-Mart...pledged Tuesday to spend $35 million compensating for wildlife habitat lost nationwide beneath its corporate "footprint." Acre for acre, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would buy an amount of land equal to all the land its stores, parking lots and distribution centers use over the next 10 years. That would conserve at least 138,000 acres in the United States as "priority" wildlife habitat. The money will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a private nonprofit group created by Congress in 1984 to leverage federal dollars for conservation projects…” (AP)

They are simply too important to be ignored, so I'm glad that people are working with them to change their practices, in addition to fighting some of their worst tendencies (like store size, design, wages...)

Philosophies like "Project outcomes must be practically and technically sound from a business and operational perspective, and yet aggressively address environmental concerns" sounds pretty damn good to me.

Posted by: justus on 19 Jul 06

I am a manufacturer of natural foods products that has been selling to Wal Mart for almost 4 years - well before the "conversion." To date, Wal Mart is the only company we sell to (we sell to all major supermarket chains including Whole Foods and Wild Oats) that has asked us to fill out a form showing what we do from a sustainibility standpoint. Over this time I have learned these things about Wal Mart:
1 - They want to pay the lowest possible price.
2 - These savings are passed on to their customers. This in NOT true for MANY of their competitors.
3 - They realize that many "green" activities will save them money.
4 - They want to sell to(and make money from) more people, especially with higher incomes. They know these people care more about the envirnonment, etc. As a result, they will respond to pressure to change if they think they can make more money that way.
5 - Of all the companies I sell to, they are the easiest to communicate with.
6 - They can't be ignored, which is why this position is a great idea!

Posted by: JohnInGardiner on 20 Jul 06

On a related note, Grist just published an editorial by John Sellers and Barbara Dudley slamming Adam Werbach for advising WalMart on their new "Environmental Health and Wellness Program".

Posted by: Evan Paul on 21 Jul 06



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