How Walmart Learned To Go Green [INTERVIEW]

As you may well already know, Walmart is the world’s largest retailer. It has stores in 15 different countries around the globe and in the U.S. the retailer’s cavernous warehouse stores are about as ubiquitous on the landscape as McDonald’s.

Great big corporate giants like Walmart can be notoriously bad at dealing with change. Yet when Walmart came under attack for its environmental credentials a few years back it proved itself surprisingly adaptive. Since then the company promised to make sustainability a priority and, for all its many detractors, it has in large part managed to keep its word.

walmart

image via Walmart

Just this month, for example, it announced that it has finished work on six new solar installations in Colorado, bringing its U.S. solar count to 100. The company’s goals include reducing its greenhouse gases at its facilities around the world by 20 percent by the end of this year, while in the long-termer it wants to see all its energy needs supplied by renewables.

Earthtechling spoke to Brooke Buchanan, Walmart’s director of sustainability communications, about the retail giant’s efforts to go green.

Earthtechling (ET): Walmart says it wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the end of year. How will this be done?

Buchanan (B):  We have already achieved significant reductions through technological advances in energy efficiency, reductions in refrigerants and renewable energy projects. We anticipate that further reductions will be increasingly challenging since the projects with the highest efficiency gains at the lowest costs have already been implemented in many of our facilities.

ET: The company has a long term goal of 100 per cent renewable energy use. What percentage do renewables currently make up? Do you have a time frame for the 100 per cent switch over?

B: In 2010, onsite renewable energy accounted for about 4 percent or 1.1 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) of electricity for Walmart facilities globally. Added together with the renewable electricity we are supplied by the grid, 22 percent of Walmart’s electricity needs globally are supplied by renewable sources. Because of Walmart’s global scale, making a meaningful penetration into our goal to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy relies on the alignment of a number of market conditions including availability of renewable resources, mature technologies and providers, finance capital availability and government incentives.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.