After 10 Years Of Sustainability Initiatives, Walmart Uses More Coal Than Ever

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Walmart seems to be the store we all love to hate. We blame it for a variety of ills, including predatory pricing that undercuts locally-owned stores, being strongly anti-union, and paying its employees just enough to keep working but not enough to do so without public assistance. Walmart has also been accused of being complicit in stocking a vast array of cheap disposable goods made in sweatshops that clog our waste stream and wreak havoc on our environment, while making huge profits that benefit shareholders – to the detriment of the local economy.

walmart-logoBut about 10 years ago, this retail giant made a sustainability pledge that promised to change at least some of the company’s image, and to clean up its operations, environmentally-speaking. In 2005, then-CEO Lee Scott stated that the company would shift over to using 100% renewable power, and would become a leader in sustainability issues.

This news was widely heralded as a positive step for Walmart, and filled countless green news reports, but a decade later, it appears as if Walmart’s sustainability pledge was more greenwashing than anything else, and the company’s coal consumption and carbon emissions have actually risen, not fallen, according to a report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

The report, titled Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret: How the Company’s Slick Greenwashing Hides Its Massive Coal Consumption, found that the company is “one of the nation’s largest users of coal-fired electricity,” and that Walmart’s dependence on dirty power “pumps nearly 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution into the air each year.” While the company has made a little headway toward its pledge with renewable energy projects, such as rooftop solar, by and large Walmart’s operations continue to be powered by coal, and its clean energy initiatives provide just 3% of the company’s US electrical consumption.

“Walmart has made remarkably little progress in moving to renewable energy, while other national retailers and many small businesses are now generating a sizable share of their power from clean sources. Despite making a public commitment to sustainability nine years ago, Walmart still favors dirty coal-generated electricity over solar and wind, because the company insists on using the cheapest power it can find.” – Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report

The report claims that Walmart’s renewable energy projects are “far too small relative to the huge scale of Walmart’s operations” and that the company’s clean energy deployment is only in “relatively few” states, with about three-fourths of its solar installations in just two states (and more than half are just in California), and none at all in “large swaths of the country, including including many of the most coal-intensive states — the states that would benefit most from clean power.”

“The scope of Walmart’s coal consumption is staggering — as is its refusal to forego even a penny of short-term profits to invest in a meaningful shift to renewable power, and its financial backing of lawmakers who protect fossil fuel interests and block action on climate pollution.”

According to the report, one major factor in Walmart’s dirty power dependence is right in line with the philosophy behind the rest of the company’s operations, which puts a lot of emphasis on low prices. If solar or wind or any other renewable energy source costs more than grid electricity, then the company sticks with its dirty power, and if the cost is lower than coal, the company chooses alternative energy instead.

“Walmart uses the cheapest power it can get. In limited circumstances, on the margins of the company’s power needs, that means renewable energy. In California, where electricity rates are almost twice the national average, Walmart’s solar and fuel cell contracts are cheaper than relying exclusively on the grid.”

This dependence on vast amounts of coal-fired power, on top of adding to our climate woes and air pollution issues, also has an impact on the communities surrounding coal plants, thanks to the insidious effects of coal ash (the leftover material from burning coal as a fuel) in disposal ponds, which often leak slowly into groundwater or which can “spill” into nearby rivers or lakes, polluting a natural resource that we all rely on.

Aside from the company’s own dubious clean energy and sustainability programs, Walmart also happens to be one of the companies pouring millions of dollars into anti-solar groups, which are bankrolling the push to roll back rooftop solar and other clean energy policies on both the state and national levels.

Read the full report: Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret: How the Company’s Slick Greenwashing Hides Its Massive Coal Consumption

Image: Mike Mozart


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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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29 thoughts on “After 10 Years Of Sustainability Initiatives, Walmart Uses More Coal Than Ever

  • Well it sounds like Walmart is doing nothing wrong and this is a case of haters will be haters.

    • I agree, if Walmart is operating in Coal Generation States without incentives for solar or other RE then why pay a huge premium… Like it or not business’ have to make money.

      The only real negative here, if true, is the statement that Walmart funds anti-solar groups. I assume they do this through less transparent means, again, if true…

      • Yes, if true. Walmart though seems only interested in money. Where is the profit in spending money on anti-solar groups?

        I’m eager to jump on the Walmart hatred wagon but I want to be sure I’m not just being played.

        • Yes, the remorseless pursuit of the cheapest energy source is going to increasingly work in renewable energy’s favour.

          • That’s how I see it too. Utilities as we know them don’t have a future.

          • I think utilities will continue to operate pretty much as they have been. There will be some rough patches ahead as they have to deal with stranded assets, but those costs will eventually get pushed back on their customers. They’ll lose some market share to rooftop solar and a smaller percent to end-user storage but they will probably more than make that up with EV charging.

            The average monthly electricity bill in the US is around $100. That means there are a lot of people who pay less than $100 a month. If you monthly bite is $100 or less you aren’t likely to bother installing solar or storage. And you’re likely to see your bill decrease as the stuff we use becomes more efficient.

          • At first scan the link reads as total trash. Similar to right wing republican talking points.

          • Therefore it’s not true…i get it.

          • John, if somebody just goes with a bunch of talking points full of hateful emotion and they don’t trace back to anything substantive you have to say no.

            In the course of a week I get so much BS hatred from people around here that know me. They just assume I hate Obama and others because of my personal appearance. Every once in a while I respond and say it’s full of racist hatred and lies. It’s a bit dangerous for me but I do it anyways. I always get back that I’m wrong. Or some people start assuming I’m one of the hated enemies and start hating on me.

            Truth be told I just try to be fair as best as I can.

          • In a hyperpartisan world, trying to be fair will land you on both camps hate list. (I know from experience.)

          • The links lead back to more substantial information about how the Walton family and heirs are supporting many anti solar groups. Some in the company may be pro solar, but it looks like the control of the company is lead by folks with lip service and greenwashing in mind.

            Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute, which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy.

            A Walton-owned solar company, First Solar, was instrumental in helping APS win in Arizona, backing the utility even as the rest of the solar industry joined environmental and consumer groups in opposing the new fees. First Solar builds solar arrays for utilities and, as such, stands to benefit if households are blocked from generating their own electricity, even if it means slowing the overall growth of solar.

            First Solar also helped instigate a World Trade Organization proceeding that could force several U.S. states to repeal laws that use solar incentives to spur local job creation. First Solar does most of its manufacturing in Malaysia.”

            https://ilsr.org/walton-report/

          • Hate you for your personal appearance? But you look just like Bertrand Russell.

          • Even Bertrand Russell was hated by most. (Certainly not by me though.)

    • The charge is hypocrisy. WalMart isn’t lining up with the Kochs and Peabody coal to say global warming is a scam. It is pretending to be green, but in practice just chases the bottom line. Green washing needs to be exposed, if only so that the companies taking serious action get the reputational credit they deserve.

      BTW, if you think that companies are owned by shareholders and directors have a fiduciary duty to maximise profits, read Andy Haldane – chief economist to the Bank of England.

      • Thanks for the nice summary James. I agree.

      • We must be careful to distinguish between the Walmart Corporation and the Walmart Family and its heirs.

        The latter have allied with ALEC and other very anti solar forces.

        “Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute, which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy.

        A Walton-owned solar company, First Solar, was instrumental in helping APS win in Arizona, backing the utility even as the rest of the solar industry joined environmental and consumer groups in opposing the new fees. First Solar builds solar arrays for utilities and, as such, stands to benefit if households are blocked from generating their own electricity, even if it means slowing the overall growth of solar.

        First Solar also helped instigate a World Trade Organization proceeding that could force several U.S. states to repeal laws that use solar incentives to spur local job creation. First Solar does most of its manufacturing in Malaysia.”

        https://ilsr.org/walton-report/

    • The Waltons are disgusting people. Ivor, this is what morally bankrupt looks like. If you don’t think so, I can’t trust any of your math.

      • As stated above: “We must be careful to distinguish between the Walmart Corporation and the Walmart Family and its heirs”

        • What? When do you grow a spine? These people are literally trying to kill your children and you’re bending over backwards not to call them what they are: the most horrible people in history. You tell me what happens by the end of the century if 10 billion people have enough food for 5 billion. People like this are working for that future and their anti-intellectual sputterings do NOT buy them a pass.

          The Waltons AND Walmart are lower than scum. How would you put it?

      • You should not trust anybody. Instead research things yourself and then be prepared to justify your conclusions so others can benefit. To do this you need to be able to point to facts.

        This topic is hard to understand. On one side you have people screeching with self-righteous hate giving stats that are not verifiable. Pointing to reports that supposedly justify those facts that don’t. On the other side you have a company that specializes in utility grade solar, First Solar, that say they want the same rebates roof-top solar gets. Apparently in AZ they said net metering should be an all, for roof top and for utility solar, or nothing deal. This was interpreted as not supporting solar and the hate mongers started roaring.

        I’ve never been one to jump on to hate wagons just because it’s the popular thing to do. If you want to give me details I’ll gladly listen. I’d like to know enough to form my own opinions.

        • All the evidence is presented to know their heart plus they’ve been easy to follow since the Internet. Seems you can’t figure this out, but you’re so old, if the world collapses under the weight of unbridled pollution, you’ll already be long dead.

          • All the evidence is presented to know their heart plus they’ve been easy to follow since the Internet. Seems you can’t figure this out, but you’re so old, if the world collapses under the weight of unbridled pollution, you’ll already be long dead.

            Yes, go on and hate me. I can take it.

        • The First Solar story is much deeper than that. Its not about hate. Its about the Walton’s single minded pursuit of economic self interest to the detriment of the community at large. Its about Walton’s motives, not net metering. Consider self interests carefully when claims of interest in fairness are made.

          The Walton family support for ALEC and anti solar campaigns goes much deeper. That leads to motive. If they didn’t support ALEC, First Solar’s actions would be more ambiguous. With their support of ALEC, its clear where the Waltons sentiment is.

          Profit comes before public interest. Its clear where that leads. Corporations do whats good for the environment only if they can profit by it, greenwashing and paying fines or fees to pollute, because its cheaper. Externalities like pollution and carbon are way of pushing costs onto others, making profits in a parasitic way that undermines the health and well being of humanity.

          The Walton’s clearly are in favor of money, their own investments. That alone would not be disturbing, but when your own investment interests conflict with the “common good”, what happens?

          Private benefit comes at the expense of the benefit of society as a group. Such competitive self interest bodes poorly for issues that affect the overall benefit and welfare for all.

          You can see how this plays out in the Walton’s ownership of First Solar. At first blush, this looks good and is good. But when it serves self interest only, it comes out a little different. The public benefit is to grow both rooftop and utility solar. The Walton’s benefit is to grow their own company, First Solar, which sells mostly to utilities. Conflict of interest against the public good.

          Since First Solar is mostly selling to utilities, it hasn’t stopped it from opposing residential solar, in a self interested move. Thats counterproductive. First Solar also supported the actions against Chinese Solar panel imports, another self interested move, but with mixed effect. Based on the fact that the Waltons have no qualm about importing Chinese goods for sale at Walmart, clearly they have no ethical issue with Chinese solar imports. Rather, they see their financial self interest and act accordingly.

          ” the Walton family is funding nearly two dozen anti-solar groups — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Americans for Prosperity, which are waging state and national fights to roll back clean energy policies — while a Walton-owned energy company is pushing for regulations that hinder the growth of rooftop solar power.”

          “FirstSolar’s John Hughes argued in a 2013 Arizona Republic opinion piece that rooftop solar should not automatically be able to sell electricity back to the grid without paying equitably for the grid infrastructure.[40] Three months later FirstSolar filed comments with the Arizona Corporation Commission similarly arguing that utility-scale solar was being treated unfairly, partly due to subsidies being given asymmetrically to roof-top solar. ACC then planned a new fee for rooftop PV owners who participate in net metering, as proposed by utility Arizona Public Service (APS).”

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Solar

          Self interest has been writ large in their handling of Walmart resulting in fewer good paying jobs with shorter hours and less benefits and their parasitic drag on local economies and businesses.

          The net effect of Walmart on local economies is negative.

          “Chicago’s cautionary tale isn’t isolated. Countless communities, and peer-reviewed surveys across the country, all reach the same conclusion: When Walmart moves in, small businesses, and jobs, move out; Main St. dies.

          According to a provisional study by David Neumark, Junfu Zhang and Stephen Ciccarella called “The Effects of Walmart on Local Labor Markets,” for every two jobs Walmart “creates,” three local jobs are destroyed.”

          http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/study-proves-walmart-super-stores-kill-local-small-businesses-article-1.140129

  • The Walmart family and its heirs has supported ALEC, a highly anti solar organization.

    “Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute, which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy.

    A Walton-owned solar company, First Solar, was instrumental in helping APS win in Arizona, backing the utility even as the rest of the solar industry joined environmental and consumer groups in opposing the new fees. First Solar builds solar arrays for utilities and, as such, stands to benefit if households are blocked from generating their own electricity, even if it means slowing the overall growth of solar.

    First Solar also helped instigate a World Trade Organization proceeding that could force several U.S. states to repeal laws that use solar incentives to spur local job creation. First Solar does most of its manufacturing in Malaysia.”

    https://ilsr.org/walton-report/

    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/10/15/walmart-owners-investing-millions-anti-solar-activities/

  • You want WalMart to use less coal? Build renewable energy infrastructure and charge a lot less for the power than coal plants do. Yes – even if it means using government subsidies.

    • Thats not enough. The Walmart Family has put money into anti solar organizations like ALEC. They need to feel the stick in their pocket book, not just the carrot. Boycot Walmart until they get the picture.
      Its just like P and G with sourcing palm oil from Asian plantations that burn rain forests and increase carbon.
      Corporations always do the easy thing first with a little PR and greenwashing. Consumers have to tell them that BS doesn’t wash.

      • Haven’t been to a Walmart in over a decade….

        What I am trying to say is that the best way to make fossil fuels irrelevant is to build RE at the lowest cost possible, and undercut FF pricing significantly. Which is a different approach from trying to pass a carbon tax, legislate controls on FF pollution, etc.

        Let’s cut to the chase, and build the RE we need, now, and not hope the so-called free market is going to suddenly solve our problem.

        • If not the free market, then who?

          Do you see any government, anywhere, building EVs or paying someone to build EVs?

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