Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has put a lot of muscle behind its sustainability campaign -- global plastics companies are well aware of the company's supplier scorecards. But the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance is questioning the retailer's committment to the cause in a report released today -- Earth Day -- called "Walmart's Greenwash: How the company's much-publicized sustainability campaign falls short, while its relentless growth devastates the environment." (PDF) There's only one mention of plastics in the report, and it's not critical. Wal-Mart's plastics recycling record is held up as an example of a project that the company wants environmentalists -- and the public -- to notice:
Walmart's sustainability campaign is not your typical corporate greenwash. It is more complex and clever than that. It has enough substance mixed in with the spin to draw you in. It's easy to get swept up in the big numbers Walmart can roll out -- like the 30 tons of plastic hangers it recycles every month -- and to be charmed by the very fact of this giant company, with its hard-nosed corporate culture, using a word like 'sustainability.' More than a few environmentalists have been won over. With their endorsements and the flood of positive press that seems to follow each of Walmart's green announcements, the company has managed to turn around flagging poll numbers, shift its labor practices out of the limelight, and, most crucially, crank up its expansion machine.ILSR takes the company to task for failing to take action on climate change, and falling fall short of a goal set seven years ago to use more renewable energy. Some more materials-related items, potentially of interest to Plastics Blog readers:
- The report criticizes Wal-Mart's sale of shoddy products, like $6.24 toasters and clothing that doesn't last.
- It question's the company's Green Product Rankings, an "ambitious project" that "doesn't have much to show for itself."
In the first year or two after its founding in July 2009, the Sustainability Consortium was closelipped about its progress. In the last few months, the consortium has finally said that it is not in fact developing a rating system or even product-specific information. It is assembling general lifecycle data for types of products - a typical environmental footprint for orange juice or detergent, say, but not for specific brands within those categories. Spokesperson Jon Nicol says this data could be a starting point for a rating system should a company wish to develop one. So far, the consortium has finished just 10 assessments.23 A Walmart supercenter carries roughly 140,000 items across thousands of product types. Was Walmart woefully naive about what it would take to create the kind of Sustainability Index it promised? Was it a miscalculation to have corporations play a big role in developing environmental standards for their own products? Should Walmart have put its efforts instead into refining and adapting an existing rating system, one not controlled by industry, such as GoodGuide? Was the index just a PR ploy from the start?