Wal-Mart announced today a huge solar system purchase, a “pilot project … toward its goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy”.
For many, Wal-Mart has been an odd poster child for Green business management. While it is hard to say that its business model is ‘sustainbilility focused’ (importing things from far away, disposible (non-durable) products, big box stores served more by SUVs than public transport, etc), in terms of managing it stores’ and transport fleet operations, Wal-Mart is setting a standard for others to follow.
As part of Wal-Mart’s sustainability focus, one of the targets is to power stores with 100% renewable power. With renewable power, generally, costing more than current fossil-fuel power, Wal-Mart is first focusing on making stores as efficient as possible in energy use. And, they are working to move their power supply to 100% renewable.
According to today’s announcement,
- Wal-Mart signed contracts with three firms for solar for 22 sites
- Annual solar production estimate: 20 million kilowatt/hours (kwh)
- Each facility will receive up to 30 percent of its power through the solar system
- Estimated GHG reduction: 6500-10,000 metric tons/year
Wal-Mart seems to have started its ‘greening’ as a path to divert attention from other issues — as a publicity tool, as “greenwashing”. Now, well, they seem to have discovered that being Green is smart business for a company focused on being ‘lean’. Wal-Mart has discovered the business case for going green and is pursuing it with a vengeance. And, they aren’t scared to share their lessons, including in their very good The Road to Sustainbility web presentation.
And, to be clear, while the dollars work out, Wal-Mart leadership has clearly acknowledged Global Warming (“Climate Change”) and that they have a role (even a meaningful role) in setting a different path foward. From Walmart CEO Lee Scott’s October 2005 Twenty-First Century Leadership speech:
“These commitments are a first step. To address climate change we need to cut emissions worldwide. We know that these commitments won’t even maintain our fast growing company’s overall emissions at current levels. There is more to do and we are committed to doing our part.”
Now, while Wal-Mart is taking significant strides forward in terms of its own operations and their GHG footprint (and taking these lessons to suppliers), the next question is when will they be taking these to their customers.
There are many obstacles to breakthroughs in solar power installations — a major store like Walmart could burst through many of these by providing:
- Economy of scale in a specific marketplace
- Standard offerings (‘defined’ packages with performance guarantees)
- Training for inspectors / etc about how to handle solar installations
Wal-Mart could help, when it comes to solar power, to make the right choice, the easy choice …