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Sustainability

The great green merger

September 19, 2010
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As I have discussed before, the definitions for green and sustainable are slowly merging.

Essentially, these terms will mean about the same thing in the next few years and do so already in some situations.

The reasons this is occurring are many, but like the green movement itself, it is largely the result of customer demand.

End customers and consumers not only are selecting environmentally preferable products over conventional alternatives, but they want the companies they purchase from to be “true to the cause” as well.

In other words, they want the manufacturers, distributors and every other organization involved with a product or service to incorporate more environmentally responsible practices in all aspects of business.

Scores of large and small companies are already moving in this direction; however, one huge organization, which once had a rather poor environmental record in the past, is actually setting the pace for others to follow.

That company is Wal-Mart.

My intention is not to promote Wal-Mart, but to show an example of one company’s bold moves to a green, sustainable strategy.

It is really a remarkable event, and Wal-Mart today is arguably the most aggressive company in the world on environmental issues.

Just take a look of some of the steps it has taken:
  • It is demanding that the fuel economy of its fleet of delivery trucks be doubled by 2015. This has pushed the trucking industry to develop more fuel-efficient trucks.
  • It hired consultants to go through the trash collected at its Wal-Mart stores to determine what could be recycled. The consultants reported that a staggering 80 percent of the trash could be recycled.
  • It has adopted “the precautionary principal” for chemicals used and sold in its Wal-Mart stores. If a chemical is suspected of being harmful to users, building occupants or the environment — and safer alternatives exist — it will stop using/selling the product.
  • The company, which is the biggest user of electricity in the world, has developed an energy-saving prototype for all future stores. One of its most recent stores incorporating this new prototype, in Las Vegas, NV, uses 45 percent less energy than other comparable Wal-Mart stores.
There are numerous other steps the company is taking and testing in order to become greener and more sustainable.

It should be noted that Wal-Mart is not necessarily taking these steps simply because it believes it is the “right thing to do.”

Although the mega-retailer’s public relations department has implied this in some news stories, the key reason is probably much more practical and tangible: Becoming more sustainable improves the bottom line.

For instance, it is estimated that by doubling the fuel efficiency of its fleet of trucks, the company will save more than $50 million annually in the U.S. alone.

And if the electrical use in more of its stores can be cut virtually in half, as it was in the Las Vegas store, that would prove to be a mammoth savings for the company.

And while these green measures do indeed save Wal-Mart money, they save our country and our fragile planet as well.

About Stephen Ashkin and The Ashkin Group
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning process, and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, both based in Bloomington, IN. In the book Environmentalism Unbound, Dr. Robert Gottlieb describes Steve Ashkin as the “leading advocate for a stronger environmental profile among cleaning product manufacturers and suppliers” and the “most visible industry figure advancing the cause of environmentally preferable products.”

The Ashkin Group provides green consulting services for school districts as well as building owners, product manufacturers and cleaning contractors. For more information on The Ashkin Group, visit www.ashkingroup.com, call 812-332-7950, or e-mail steveashkin@ashkingroup.com.

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