In October of 2005, there was big news about Wal-Mart and the environment.

After years of criticism for its environmental record, the company announced plans to become a more eco-friendly retailer. The primary goals were to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, create zero waste and sell products that sustain resources and the environment. Wal-Mart’s then-CEO H. Lee Scott said at the time that the objective was for the company to become a “good steward for the environment.”

According to its latest sustainability report, the world’s largest retailer has done a lot since that announcement. This article draws on that report as well as others to highlight some of those environmental gains.

Wal-Mart’s most immediate impact on the environment may likely come through a series of new stores designed to be 25 to 30 percent more energy efficient and produce up to 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases. As of March of 2010, the company had opened three stores designed to use 20 percent less energy than a typical supercenter, four stores designed to use 25 percent less energy than a typical supercenter and one — in Las Vegas — that was designed to use 45 percent less energy than a typical supercenter.

Among its other notable eco-friendly initiatives, Wal-Mart has embarked on a program to retool many of its stores with solar panels. The company last year announced plans to add solar arrays to 10 to 20 of its facilities in California over the following 18 months. Wal-Mart already had 20 complete installations at facilities in California and Hawaii. According to the company, these solar installations produced seven million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy in 2008.

Also last year, Wal-Mart began purchasing 226 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy as part of a four-year power purchase agreement with Duke Energy for stores in Texas. The company said that approximately 350 of its stores and facilities in Texas use wind-generated electricity.

As part of the October 2005 announcement, Wal-Mart took steps to make its fleet of vehicles 25 percent more efficient within the next three years. The company said that it achieved a 38 percent increase in efficiency by installing fuel-saving technologies, loading trucks more efficiently and improving its routing system to eliminate empty miles traveled.

Wal-Mart has also said it wants to eliminate landfill waste at its U.S. stores and Sam’s Club facilities by 2025. Over a 12-month period spanning 2008 and 2009, the company said it successfully redirected more than 57 percent of the waste from its stores and Sam’s Club facilities. Wal-Mart credited its ‘super sandwich baling process’ for much of the recycling success. Thanks to the baling process, which entails compressing recyclable items between layers of cardboard, the company diverted 182 million pounds of loose plastic, 18.9 million pounds of plastic hangers, 12.4 million pounds of office paper and 1.3 million pounds of aluminum from going to landfills. In addition, 25 billion pounds of cardboard has been sent to paper mills to be processed into new products.

Those recycling gains were on top of Wal-Mart’s 2008 commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative to reduce global plastic shopping bag waste by an average of 33 percent by 2013. The company has said that the commitment could lead to the elimination of 135 million pounds of plastic shopping bag waste globally.

On the packaging front, Wal-Mart has pursued several programs to reduce the amount of packaging that goes into their products and therefore reduce the amount that ends up in landfills. The company said that in 2006 it reduced the amount of packaging in its digital media department by 50 percent.  A big portion of that came about after Wal-Mart worked with Apple to make iPod packaging more environmentally friendly. The iPod packaging was changed to be comprised 100 percent from renewable, recyclable and sustainable materials.

More recently, Wal-Mart in February 2010 announced plans to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. According to the announcement, this goal would equate to taking more than 3.8 million cars off the road for a year.

There’s a lot more to read about Wal-Mart and the environment. The company has several fact sheets available in the sustainability section of its corporate Web site.

Wal-Mart and the environment
Wal-Mart and the environment. After years of criticism for its environmental record, the company has taken steps to become a more eco-friendly retailer.