Black Friday brings big deals from the world’s largest retailer, but this year’s annual retail holiday also will bring demonstrations to Walmart, as environmentalists across the country demand change from one of the world’s largest polluters.
Employees and advocates for fair labor and better wages will also demonstrate on Nov. 29 in as many as 1,500 actions across the United States.
“I think America needs to wake-up to what Walmart is and that there is a huge price being paid for the products Americans think they are getting cheaply,” said Samantha Pickens of Atlanta, who was recruiting Black Friday demonstrators the week before Thanksgiving.
Pickens’ partner, Toni Evans, also of Atlanta, added, “Walmart is destructive in so many ways. It’s an irony that after we spend a day giving thanks for all we have, we run out to this place and gorge, gobbling up more, and helping Walmart damage the earth in the process.”
With the arrival of the holiday retail season, activists such as Evans and Pickens are joining others, including representatives of leading environmental groups, in calling on Walmart to live up to the public relations image it has manufactured and go green. Walmart execs promised in 2005 to become corporate leaders in the green movement, but the company’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to exceed those of many countries, and Walmart’s use of renewable power actually declined in 2012.
“Despite its recent PR events on renewable energy, the truth is that Walmart lags far behind many other retailers in making the shift to wind and solar,” state representatives of nine leading environmental groups said in a letter to Walmart’s board of directors and the Walton family, which owns half the company.
They continue, “More troubling still, Walmart has made clear that it plans to increase the amount of climate change pollution it pumps into the atmosphere over the coming decade.”
The letter, signed by the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, the Institute for Policy Studies, Energy Action Coalition and others, calls for fundamental changes to the company’s business model, which “continues to elevate profits above all else and leaves devastation in its wake.” In 2012, Walmart generated $17 billion in profits. The Walton family is worth $144.7 billion.
The environmental leaders also took up the lack of fair treatment and decent wages for employees in their letter: “Walmart is profitable because it externalizes its costs onto people, including its own workers, and the environment. We affirm that true sustainability entails a commitment to a viable future for both the environment and people.”
The statement from the groups coincided with the November release of a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance that examined change — or lack of change — since 2005, when then-CEO Lee Scott said the company had a “responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can.”
Public opinion polls conducted over the past eight years show that Walmart succeeded in convincing many consumers that is a green company. But research shows that Walmart green washed its image — the record doesn’t match the reputation. The ILSR paper, Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Green Washers in America, claims that if the retailer was included on the Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index it would rank No. 33, just behind Chevron. Walmart is not listed because the index is for heavy industrial firms — oil companies and metal smelters — not retailers.
Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the nonprofit ILSR and author of Big-Box Swindle, wrote the paper.
• In the eight years since Scott said the climate change “science is in and it is overwhelming,” Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have grown at least 14 percent and continue to rise.
• Walmart lags behind other retailers in making the shift to renewable power. The company derives 4 percent of the electricity used to power its stores from wind and solar projects. Kohl’s Department Stores and Whole Foods Market get all of their electricity from renewable sources.
• Walmart, in measuring its pollution, omits several major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, including those generated by its international shipping operation.
Walmart is the largest importer of ocean cargo containers in the United States, responsible for importing one in every 25 containers shipped to the country.
According to the ILSR report, ocean shipping is a leading source of climate pollution. It causes more CO2 emissions than all but five countries.
And the ships that haul the cargo typically burn a dirty “bunker” fuel that produces black carbon — soot — and nitrogen oxide — a precursor to smog.
Walmart, in measuring its pollution, also ignores the impact of clearing land and building stores. Between 2005 and 2012, the company built 1,316 new U.S. “supercenters” — expanding its store space by 200 million square feet. Its plans for 2014–15 call for 516 additional stores — another 26-28 million square feet — using cement and steel.
The company usually develops fresh land, turning woods and fields into asphalt, Mitchell said.
• Walmart continues to be a major contributor to the campaigns of politicians who oppose action to deal with the climate crisis, and some who deny the science.
In her research, Mitchell found that since 2003 Walmart’s PAC has given more than $22 million to federal and state candidates and political parties. Sam Walton’s heirs also are major political donors.
From 2005 to 2012, more than half of the PAC and family donations to congressional campaigns went to members who voted against the environment at least 70 percent of the time. In 2007–08, 80 percent of Walmart donations to Senate campaigns went to members who voted against the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the PAC and family donations to federal lawmakers went to those who supported the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.
“Behind all of Walmart’s slick green washing is a business model that is fundamentally unsustainable,” said Mitchell. “It depends on a highly polluting, far-flung global supply chain and a network of sprawling supercenters. It exploits workers and wields political influence to undermine the common good.”
Environmental leaders, responding to the ILSR report, want Walmart to adopt a publicly verifiable method for tracking its emissions, to commit to an overall 20-percent reduction in emissions by 2020 and to end its reliance on “dirty coal, fracking and tar sand oil.”
Said Michael Marx of the Sierra Club, “Walmart is failing on climate exactly like it is failing on worker’s rights. If Walmart wants us to live better, it can start by treating its workers with the dignity and respect they deserve and taking real steps to cut carbon pollution.”