March 29, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
When corporate 'greening' chafes environmentalists
- Related Stories
Wal-Mart places new focus on sustainable electronicsMarch 13, 2007
HP's print cartridge packaging goes greenFebruary 8, 2007
(continued from previous page)
"Wal-Mart has done an about-face on the environment over the past year, and this is one of a score of initiatives it has taken that frankly none of us had seen coming," said Joel Makower, editor of GreenBiz.com, a news and resource site focused on how corporations address environmental issues. "The reasons for (the environmental initiatives) are many and varied, some of which have to do with their image problems and the pressures they face, but they also seek competitive advantage here and the ability to create new markets for products that they think their customers will want."
And as much as some Wal-Mart practices may make your average eco-geek wrinkle his nose, they are willing to admit that such practices will make a difference simply because of how big the company is. "Everybody's watching them," said Marc Alt. "What (Wal-Mart does) has massive effects on the global economy, and has the potential to actually have the most positive effects on the environment as well, just because of the sheer amount of trucking and shipping they do, and the amount of energy they use."
The biggest criticism (and perhaps the most unfair one) of the green campaign of Wal-Mart and others is that they are also savvy business moves: Hewlett-Packard, for example, redesigned its print cartridge packaging earlier this year in a move that not only "greened" its production, but also pared down shipping costs and freed up retailers' shelf space.
When it comes to high-profile environmental initiatives, Wal-Mart has "been doing the most work out of any global corporation, but they haven't really telegraphed that to their customer base as well," said Alt. "The sustainable initiatives of Wal-Mart have really been the province of business magazines."
Representatives from Wal-Mart declined to comment on how they intend to advertise and publicize their environmental initiatives to consumers. If they do, they still wouldn't be immune to criticism from the environmentalist front. The company's advertising campaigns, after all, have inspired a fair amount of "greenwash" finger-pointing in the past.
Even before any such advertising kicks in, the attitude of many hard-core environmentalists will be "proceed with caution." "I have never shopped at Wal-Mart. I still wouldn't,' said Lloyd Alter, citing concerns about the company's manufacturing and labor practices. "When Wal-Mart starts to look at that, they might as well reinvent their whole damned company. So they're ahead of the curve, and yet in some ways they're behind the curve."
But GreenBiz.com's Makower is willing to focus on the positive. "What Wal-Mart's doing (with its sustainable electronics initiative) raises consumer awareness that there are environmental issues related to iPods, Game Boys, PCs, fax machines," he said. "That could be very helpful in general. That could help move the needle."
9 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment