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The Washington Post has a piece about how Walmart is pushing its China suppliers to be more environmentally friendly:

“Wal-Mart has more than 10,000 suppliers in China. In addition, about a million farmers supply produce to the company's 281 stores in China. If Wal-Mart were a sovereign nation, it would be China's fifth or sixth largest export market. So the company hopes that small measures taken by all suppliers start to add up. Its 200 biggest suppliers in China have already trimmed 5 percent of their energy use.

“In the past, environmental concerns have taken a back seat to growth in China and to costs for Wal-Mart. And China and Wal-Mart have come under sharp criticism for conditions in factories. Yet pollution now threatens China's growth; as a result, awareness about climate change and energy security has spread in China. Likewise, as consumers grow more environmentally aware, Wal-Mart's executives have responded.”

In the end, some experts say, Walmart’s emphasis on environmental issues and the guidelines it sets could be more important than what the Chinese government does, because the suppliers with which it deals are more likely to respond to economic pressures from the world’s biggest retailer than they are to government fines and threats.

The Post notes that not everybody is buying into Walmart’s portrayal of itself as an environmental watchdog, and and that many still regard the company’s emphasis on low price as a chief driver of substandard conditions, whether it comes to the environment or labor issues.

But Walmart responds that it is doing the best it can under difficult circumstances, and that regulating the Chinese manufacturing community is a daunting and near-impossible task.

Interestingly, the San Francisco Chronicle has a piece about Elizabeth Sturcken, who it identifies as the “go-to person” in Walmart’s green initiatives ... but who works as managing director of corporate partnerships for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is working with Walmart as the company seeks to eliminate 20 million tons of carbon emissions by 2015.

“EDF's collaboration with an oft-vilified corporation hasn't always sat well with others in the environmental community,” the Chronicle writes, but Sturcken says that “the capacity to create change with them is phenomenal.” She also says that EDF takes no money from Walmart because “it is cleaner that way.”
KC's View:
The public relations department at Walmart appears to be working overtime...with good results. (This is not a slam. Companies need to tell their story and do so in a compelling way, and I respect good PR people who know how to create a narrative. Which is precisely what Walmart is doing.)

We can choose to be cynical about Walmart’s efforts in this area, or we can choose to see the company as one that is embracing its environmental responsibilities in a way that allows it also to deliver value to both shoppers and shareholders. There are different definitions of “green,” and Walmart seems to be embracing all of them.

Is it a perfect company? No. Does it make mistakes? Yes.

But as someone from the EDF says in the Chronicle piece, “it gets harder and harder to hate Walmart.”

Must be confusing for a lot of people...