The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Wal-mart Isn’t Green

December 8, 2009

Monday, Steve Walt posted about the environment, drawing reader attention to several corporate efforts to make themselves greener. When I read those kinds of items, I always suspect “greenwashing.”

Actually, to be fair, Walt noted that Jared Diamond wrote about these business initiatives in the NY Times. This one caught my eye:

Walmart is working to reduce its energy expenditures because energy (e.g., fuel for delivery trucks) is expensive;

Environmentalists frequently point out that Wal-mart’s alleged energy savings are designed only to save the company money. Consumers (more and more all the time) have to drive great distances to get to Wal-mart and thus more than make up for whatever conservation the company achieves.

Moreover, as I noted in mid-October, Wal-mart has essentially outsourced serious environmental costs to China. The company’s world buying headquarters is in Shenzhen, an industrial city of more than 10 million people that is part of a “special economic zone” in China. As a result of lax environmental standards, the United Nations Environment Programme reported in 2007 that Shenzhen is heading for ecological disaster.

Wal-mart’s business practices (including its low prices) have serious adverse ecological consequences that cannot be readily countered with corporate cost-cutting measures that also happen to save energy.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.