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Wal-Mart frequently touts its new lines of allegedly “Green” products as innovative ways to promote environmentalism among existing customers and attract new ecologically-minded ones.
But there are economic and even environmental problems with some of these products. Wal-Mart is especially pushing sales of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) because they use one-third the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs and last longer.
Consumers, though, are likely to be put off by the fact that a single CFL bulb at Wal-Mart costs $1.65 compared to just 24 cents for the incandescent bulb. Other CFLs can cost as much as $5 per bulb.
In addition, CFLs raise safety concerns because they contain mercury which can potentially pose health risks. The mercury level in a CFL is very low when compared to a thermometer. Nevertheless, a broken CFL can release mercury vapors that can affect a person’s brain, spinal chord, kidneys and liver. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that if a CLF bulb breaks, an individual should immediately open a window to disperse vapors, not touch the area where the bulb was broken, carefully clean the area, and remove all glass fragments.
If a bulb burns out, it is considered hazardous waste and must be sealed in a safe container before disposal.
Wal-Mart is making a huge mistake by pushing products like CFL bulbs just because environmentalists deem them ecologically safe. Environmentalists are notorious for pushing “Green-friendly” products that turn out to have their own ecological baggage. And in the case of CFLs, environmentalists are sure to eventually reject them because the mercury content will cause serious hazardous waste disposal problems.
The company will then find itself scrambling to get rid of CFLs to embrace yet another allegedly “Green-friendly” product.
EVEN THOUGH WAL-MART HAS INVESTED so much money and effort into being ecologically correct, the environmental movement dismisses its initiatives as insufficient.
On September 6, 2007, a coalition of 23 environmental, labor and human rights groups released a report, “Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Initiative: A Civil Society Critique,” denouncing Wal-Mart’s environmental campaign. Coalition members include the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, ACORN, Global Exchange, and the United Methodist Church.
The report concluded “that even if Wal-Mart achieved all of its stated goals, the company’s business model is inherently unsustainable.”
For instance, the report dismisses Wal-Mart’s pledge to spend millions of dollars to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Although the company is taking steps to cut 20 million tons of gases each year, it is still creating 220 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, “more than 40 times the emissions the company” plans to eliminate.
The report also repeat’s organized labor’s long-time charge that Wal-Mart mistreats its employees. Trina Tocco of the International Labor Right’s Forum says “the company continues to squeeze workers and suppliers in a global ‘race to the bottom’ in wages, benefits and working conditions.”
This should put to rest any illusion Wal-Mart may have had that “Going Green” would mute criticism of its labor practices.
In January 2007, eleven environmental and corporate accountability organizations, including Greenpeace USA, sent a letter to Lee Scott demanding that Wal-Mart “end its political contributions to anti-environmental candidates.”
They called Wal-Mart’s environmental initiatives a sham because most of the company’s political donations go to Republican or pro-free-market lawmakers and candidates. The groups demanded that Wal-Mart “end its contributions to anti-environmental candidates and bring its stated intentions and actions in line.”