Walmart owners painted as black, not green

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a reputable and usually responsible U.S. non-governmental organization, has published a report accusing the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart, of using their wealth to support organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute which are opposing government action on climate change and some of which some would describe as climate change deniers. This accusation has the potential to cause major new damage to the green image which Walmart has been trying to build.

According to ILSR:

  • Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy.
  • A Walton-owned solar company, First Solar, was instrumental in helping Arizona Public Service, an electricity utility, win higher fees for grid connection and net metering of rooftop solar panel systems. First Solar builds large solar arrays for utilities and, according to ILSR, 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.

ILSR states that the Waltons claim to have a deep commitment to sustainability, but their support for anti-solar initiatives, which ILSR supports, tells a different story. The Waltons are investing in efforts that both undercut clean energy and prevent average Americans from benefitting economically from solar power.

Last year ILSR reported that since Walmart publicly embraced environmentalism in 2005, the Company’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent and the company was generating only 4 percent of its power from wind and solar, despite pledging to go 100 percent renewable.  That share has since dropped to 3 percent.  ILSR’s 2013 report also found that both Walmart’s and the Walton family’s political donations heavily favour lawmakers who oppose legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The ILSR / Walmart battle illustrates one of the complexities of greening a company without “walking the talk”. Supporting and implementing policies and actions that run counter to stated environmental objectives may do more harm than good to a company’s image and reputation. ILSR describes its report as “an instructive case study of the complexities of contemporary green-washing”.

The 19 page ILSR report How the Walton Family is Threatening Our Clean Energy Future is available at http://www.ilsr.org/walton-report/#more-37387 

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