Kaid Benfield Archive


Candor from Wal-Mart?

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 19, 2008 at 8:14PM

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Sprawl in Hunterdon County, New JerseyI've been pretty hard on Wal-Mart and, believe me, they've earned it with their land-use practices.  I awarded them my Thanksgiving turkey and then followed up with my despair over a news story touting their sustainability efforts.

The problem with most sustainability stories about the company I consider the poster child for sprawl is that they generally neglect to say anything about land use.  Heck, even NRDC's own magazine recently ran a feature interview with a green marketing leader who was effusive in his praise of the company with nary a word about land use.  I actually agree with a lot of the opinion expressed in the interview about the company's efforts to, say, reduce waste.  But I wish people's accolades for Wal-Mart were a little more nuanced, given that they also have a nasty habit of building 200,000 square-foot stores surrounded by 20 acres of pavement, typically on farmland, only to abandon the sites a decade later and move out to the next cornfield.

A new post on the Grist site is refreshingly more candid.  It quotes Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott as saying at a recent conference, "we are not green. We have an extraordinary distance to go."  Scott apparently went on to describe how Wal-Mart's business goals continue to constrain its environmental goals.  Referring to a question-and-answer session at the conference, Grist writer David Roberts goes on to report from his notes:

"Zoning issues and relentless campaigning by NGOs has made land-use a priority issue. The company is focusing now on brownfields and other more benign siting decisions. (Color me skeptical about this, but I was glad someone at least asked about land-use issues.)"

The quoted skepticism is from Roberts, not me, but I do share it.  Roberts's reporting on Wal-Mart is fair both to the company and to the issues on which it deserves criticism.  I recommend it.