Walmart as the unlikely eco-evangelist?

July 17, 2009

Truth be told, many consumers want to do the right thing by our environment, but, they also want it to be made easy. This is a statement that burns the ears of environmentalists everywhere, but let’s face it, the environmental benefit is traditionally not a top consideration during most consumers’ decision-making process. That is not to say that given the choice of a recycle bin, they will not dispose of a recyclable container correctly, but it is unlikely that you will find that option on Main Street in Wakefield, or throughout communities nationwide.

Such is true with the consumer goods we buy. There is a stigma attached to Whole Foods’ pricing, and the expense of “buying green” that seems to be a dividing factor between those dedicated to the environment and those looking for the budget-friendly route. Could Walmart, the discount retailing giant once chastised for its environmentally un-friendly practices, be the unlikely ally to the eco-conscious community by making buying green easier and more accessible?

It certainly seems so as the retailer, that raked in $406 billion in revenue in 2008 alone, announced yesterday that it will launch a green labeling program over the next year and will label each of the products the company sells by their environmental impact; the company has been working on a sustainability index over the past year to achieve this. This move is part of the company’s long-term goal to not only reverse its reputation, but provide consumers with the information they “want”.

Dealerscope’s Steve Silver posted this quote from Walmart’s CEO, Mike Duke, “Customers want products that are more efficient, that last longer and perform better. And increasingly they want information about the entire lifecycle of a product so they can feel good about buying it. They want to know that the materials in the product are safe, that it was made well and that it was produced in a responsible way.”

Hmm? Whether or not Duke’s comments accurately reflect those of Walmart’s customer base and target market is questionable to me, but there is no question that this announcement will catapult “eco-friendly” to a top considerations for many companies throughout their product design, manufacturing, and packaging process.  Will the retailer’s portfolio of goods, including CE, be shaken up when a manufacturer falls short of a determined standard? Or, will this program simply tell us that we are, in fact, not changing our product purchasing behaviors at all?

Save money. Live better. Buy Green? Time will tell.

Posted by: Katie | follow me on Twitter