Greenwash Of The Week: Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index.


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Honestly, I wasn’t going to touch this one. But then I came across a really great article over on CorpWatch titled “Wal-Mart’s (Un)sustainability Index” and, well, I couldn’t leave it be without sharing it with you guys. As regular readers know, I am not a fan of the big-box giant, mainly because of their atrocious human rights and employment rights violations over the years. But now I can add another reason to not like them – their new “Sustainability Index” which asks a bunch of their suppliers to answer 15 questions. From the article: “Ten of these involve environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, water use, waste generation and raw materials sourcing. The final five questions are listed under the heading of “People and Community: Ensuring Responsible and Ethical Production.” Two of them involve “social compliance.” It is an amazing act of chutzpah for Wal-Mart, which probably keeps more sweatshops in business than any other company, to claim moral authority to ask suppliers about the treatment of workers in their supply chain.” Yes, if you look closely, they are keeping score on others about their corporate sustainability while not even judging themselves. Seems like they think that by making a big announcement about their new-found concern for where the crap products in their stores comes from, they can place the blame for environmental issues squarely on anyone…except themselves. Greenwashing at it’s finest, I say. I will leave you with this tidbit from the article as well:

For years, Wal-Mart was notorious for pressing suppliers to reduce the quality of their goods to keep down prices. Now the behemoth of Bentonville is suddenly a proponent of proponent of products that “are more efficient, that last longer and perform better.” Will Wal-Mart pay its suppliers higher prices to cover the costs of improving quality?

What do you think?

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  1. I haven’t come here to praise Wal-mart, they are definitely guilty of greenwashing as defined by The Some. They are, however, the only game in town for a lot of people and any positive steps, however self-serving, will have measurable impact. There are exceptions to what we perceive as THE Wal-mart way of doing things. I expected the worst when my favorite boot maker entered the Borg, but from what I can tell with a quick search, they are still making quality stuff in a couple of small towns in North America. Work boots, may be an anomaly in that consumers demand quality.

    1. Maybe so – but by buying them at Wal-mart, it supports their worker rights & environmental violations, never mind putting small local family-owned businesses out of business. That’s why even though I have one in town that most shop at, I refuse to – and I drive 69 miles out of my way to shop elsewhere.

  2. Of course! When I make that trip, I go to Trader Joes, Target, Whole Foods, the bank, etc. I go about once a month or so.

  3. Penn & Teller dedicated an episode of their show to Wal-Mart. It was really interesting. If you have Netflix, you can “watch instantly” b/c season 4 and 5 are online.

  4. David, while I agree that supporting Walmart when it’s avoidable is a great idea (I personally refuse to shop there for anything, but then again I have a lot more options in my area). However, I really hope you’re combining these 69-miles-out-of-your-way shopping trips with other necessary drives to the same area! Otherwise, all that gas you’re burning is kind of crazy and obviously not too fantastic for the environment.

  5. I should mention that I do not presently go to Wal-mart. I can’t claim to be boycotting it because I moved to a country that doesn’t have a Wal-mart or a Starbucks or even a McDonald’s. I suppose the aspects of consumer culture represented by those places might have influenced my decision.

    Environmental responsibility is not that apparent in the developing country where I presently reside, but there is a very thriving ‘Mom and Pop’ retail economy. The shopkeeper will pour cooking oil or cleaning products out of reusable glass bottles into the container that you brought with you. I can buy a flat of 30 eggs and save the trays so that I can give them to the egg delivery guy when I have a stack of them. Old ladies sell homemade potato chips from tables outside their front doors. Shopkeepers tally your bill using a pen and the cardboard that they tear off the top of a cigarette carton.

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