The devil and his horned minions must be flooding Amazon.com with requests for winter hats, mittens and hot cocoa, because the unthinkable has happened: Wal-Mart has gone Green. Ok, perhaps Satan should not retire his bottle of SPF 5,000 or his fashionable flip-flops just yet, because like most events in history, Wal-Mart’s new found eco-friendliness is not as simple as black or white, or as good vs. evil.
Like any good story, we must start at the beginning. In a recent webcast, Wal-Mart pledged to eliminate 20 million metric tons of Greenhouse gas emissions from their global supply chain by 2015.

“Explain it to me like I am a fifth grader.”

Ok, more simply put, Wal-Mart will be flexing its giant megastore muscles to pressure their product suppliers into cutting their greenhouse emissions.

A seemingly noble enough reason to flex your corporate muscles, this effort is not causing unanimous celebrations across the land of the eco-minded (you would be absolutely shocked at the amount of “kiss me, I am organic” t-shirts people sport there). Wal-Mart, which is not-so affectionately nicknamed Sprawl-Mart in certain circles,  has not always shown such concern for the environment and despite these  recent efforts, it is still a company that crushes smaller companies that can not compete by providing products as cheaply for their customers as Wal-Mart can, as well as labor abuses and using questionable factories overseas.

This announcement, has been met with a spattering of praise, a pinch of cynicism, and a  few hundred cups of confusion. Could this green initiative be the biggest case of green washing of our time? Some critics seem to Walmart‘s motivations are not as pure as they may seem at first glance.  Stacy Mitchell offers, in an enlightening piece on this very subject on grist.org , “Just a few years ago, Wal-Mart’s ability to grow both here and abroad was in serious jeopardy… Since developing a greener image, Wal-Mart has had a much easier time countering local opposition and winning over city officials.”  This move to “go green” is much like  Wal-Mart’s announcement of going Fair Trade two years ago.  While it seems noble, their overall company ethics and business practices don’t match up with either Fair Trade or Green.

There is no doubt that a little bit of green has gone a long way in gaining a company favor with the public in recent years, but if Wal-Mart lives up to their pledge, is it really “washing” so much as “being truly proactive”? Or do the other negative impacts this Corporation has on the environment -such as the green house emissions coming from shipping items all over the world, as well as from  the endless stream of cars in their parking lots- negate or lessen the positive impact of this green promise?  Is it really such a bad thing that a company millions worldwide seem in no rush to stop shopping at tries to toss Mother nature a solid?

Another, and completely  jarring point brought up by the very same grist article is  that when considering this image make over  in correlation with the recent decision by the Supreme Court to allow corporate personhood, it becomes a little more sinister. Will this reduction in admissions be touted out as a reason that “Walmart is not so bad after all“, come an election time in our not so distant futures?

Then, there is the question of whether Wal-Mart’s muscle are any match for  all of their suppliers, particularly those  based in China. As Douglas Mcintyre writes in an article for dailyfinance.com, “It’s questionable whether Wal-Mart can force its programs on suppliers inside the People’s Republic both because of their value to the company as low-cost providers, and because the Chinese government has not been very open to substantially reducing carbon emissions.”
“Explain it to me as if I were a third grader.”

Is Wal-Mart’s Rocky Balboa tough enough to beat China’s Ivan Drago? (Hmm, maybe I should not besmirch Rocky’s good name by comparing him to Wal-Mart, he did single-handedly defeat Communism in Rocky IV via a string of stirring montages, after all).

Long story… well already way too long, Wal-Mart’s policy  enforcement and the reason behind its creation remain unseen. This is an unfolding drama, that may very well someday be fodder for a Lifetime television movie. (Which will hopefully star at  the Olson twins, in some capacity.)

The fact remains that Wal-Mart- even if this effort is executed successfully, in the most altruistic, non self-serving manner possible- should still be subject to scrutiny from its potential shoppers for  any and all of its other questionable practices. Cutting emissions should not become a get out of jail free card, or worse yet, a get into public office one.

Perhaps the ends justifies the means, or perhaps we should, as a people,  hold the means up to stronger standard , especially when the ends remain a huge question mark.

Then again, I may be missing something between the ends, the means, the greens and all those Rocky montages swirling in my noggin. Someone, explain it to me as if I were a first grader.

-Meghan Hurley

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