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The environmental movement’s ostracism of some fellow activists who are working for Wal-Mart is further proof that the company’s sustainability campaign is doomed to failure.
In 2006, former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach entered into a contract with Wal-Mart to help burnish its “Green” image. His consulting firm Act Now is developing a Personal Sustainability Project which purports to teach the company’s employees how to practice environmentally responsible behavior in their daily lives.
However, liberal activists are bitterly denouncing Werbach as a traitor. The Sierra Club reportedly asked him to reconsider working for Wal-Mart. John Sellers of the Ruckus Society wrote an open letter, headlined “The Death of Integrity,” accusing Werbach of abandoning his principles. And ACORN chief Wade Rathke says, “I have no idea what Adam believes anymore.”
Indeed, activist anger is so deep over Werbach’s alliance with the hated Wal-Mart that he can no longer speak in public without special security.
WAL-MART’S MARKETING OF ORGANIC FOOD has also proved disappointing. Wal-Mart hopes that by offering more organic food, it will improve its appeal to urban, upscale consumers that tend to buy organic goods.
However, organic activists emphatically reject Wal-Mart’s claims to be organic-friendly. Advocacy groups, such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute, believe that large companies like Wal-Mart must rely upon factory farms, increased imports and other mass marketing strategies that undermine the organic ethos of small, traditional farming.
In November 2006, the Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture charging that Wal-Mart was incorrectly labeling several products as organic. Although the department did not act on the request, the Cornucopia Institute maintains that Wal-Mart continues to mislead consumers by advertising non-organic products as organic.
In August 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened to revoke the organic status of the dairy company that supplies Wal-Mart with its organic milk, charging the company with using conventional farming methods in its dairy operations.
This year, the Organic Consumers Association called on consumers to boycott Wal-Mart, labeling it “the nation’s largest and most ethically-challenged retailer.”
Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Self-Reliance concludes there is no hope for Wal-Mart to redeem itself because “big-box retailing is as intrinsically unsustainable as clear-cut logging.” She says by building big-box stores that displace smaller neighborhood businesses, Wal-Mart forces consumers to drive farther, use more fuel and emit more greenhouse gases.
She also castigates environmentalists, like Werbach, who embrace Wal-Mart. They “are not only absolving the company of the consequences of its business model,” they spread the lie “that this method of retailing goods canâ€¦be made sustainable.”
Wal-Mart should have known better.
THE ACTIVIST RESPONSE TO WAL-MART’S sustainability efforts as insincere is hardly a surprise. Environmentalists are die-hard ideologues committed to an anti-free market agenda and there is no way Wal-Mart can reconcile its rational pursuit of profit with these zealots’ radical objectives.
Wal-Mart became one of the world’s most successful corporations by pursuing an innovative, low cost strategy that revolutionized the U.S. economy. By trying to curry favor with the environmental movement, Wal-Mart is playing “Russian Roulette” with its future.
Lee Scott’s sustainability campaign is not only doing a grave disservice to shareholders, it is betraying the legacy of Sam Walton. The founder of Wal-Mart didn’t believe in spending money on glitzy public relations campaigns. He certainly would be aghast at the idea of spending millions of dollars to build alliances with liberal activists. Walton rightly understood that the only opinion Wal-Mart needed to respect was the consumer’s. Lee Scott should stop wasting time courting activists and start listening, once again, to the consumers.
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