Over at the Daily Grist is an article titled Keep Your Eyes on the Size: The Impossibility of a green Wal-Mart. After recognizing Wal-Mart's outstanding commitments to greater efficiency - which include a 20% improvement in energy efficiency of all stores, the doubling of the fuel economy of their truck fleet, and the public reporting of their carbon footprint - the article's author, Stacy Mitchell, glibly dismisses the company's efforts because their carbon footprint does not take into account the SUVs that you, the consumer, drive to their stores.
Here's the key issue. Wal-Mart's carbon estimate omits a massive source of CO2 that is inherent to its operations and amounts to more than all of its other greenhouse-gas emissions combined: the CO2 produced by customers driving to its stores.Let me be perfectly clear. I am not pro "big box" stores. I avoid all of them whenever possible, and I universally boycott Wal-Mart in particular for precisely the reasons Ms. Mitchell points out. However, credit where credit is due. Wal-Mart is making a more substantial commitment to green improvements than virtually any other major corporation, or government for that matter.
The real distraction taking place is the one occurring in the environmental community itself. While green leaders and publications like Grist continue to hunt their demons and dream of lofty ideals, they utterly fail to grasp the fact that long-term change towards sustainability and environmental responsibility is going to occur step-by-step, not by waving a magic wand and wishing for a perfect world.
Big box stores, oil companies and other destructive industries are with us and won't be disappearing anytime over the next several decades. However, with each year that passes they can be transformed, or slowly eliminated, through voluntary actions like Wal-Mart's and through strong government leadership that provides genuinely green rules and incentives. Wal-Mart's commitment to a 20% improvement in energy efficiency is something to be embraced. With that strong beginning taking place, it is now for governments to step in and get the ball rolling faster.
Want to stop Wal-Mart from transporting goods to heartland America from the far corners of the world? Double fuel taxes, cut taxes for local businesses and products, and levy taxes on imported goods. Want to stop the damage caused by consumers commuting to Wal-Mart? Double the fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, invest in urban planning and public transportation, and raise taxes at the gas pump so people won't burn fuel commuting to big box stores built on asphalt covered farmland. People will no longer go to Wal-Mart for 'cheap' products, because it will no longer be cheap to do so.
The responsibility for those changes is the province of government. To change government inaction we, the voters, need to start speaking up to this guy, and this guy, and insist that they stop denying global warming. We need to start talking to our neighbors who elected them in the first place and show them a better alternative, and for the 45% of you who don't bother going to the polls, you need to take a break from voting for the next American Idol and start making your voice heard in favour of the people who will make these changes.
Until that happens, Wal-Mart is making some of the world's biggest improvements towards greener operations. If you're criticizing that, then try planting some trees instead of barking up the wrong one. You'll be doing the environmental movement way more good.