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Peter Getty is a philanthropist and contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. His work and writings revolve around environmental issues. Getty's philanthropic initiatives, as well as the organizations he supports, are committed to protecting the environment and spreading environmental awareness.

Can Walmart Sustain Its Sustainability Promise?

A decade ago, Walmart promised a move towards a more conscientious mode of business with sustainability at its center. In 2015, Lee Scott (then its CEO) declared the superstore’s intention to move towards 100% renewable what? Disappointingly, it hasn’t really worked out that way.

According to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Walmart’s carbon emissions consumption is the opposite of renewable. In fact, Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret: How the Company’s Slick Greenwashing Hides Its Massive Coal Consumption report revealed that the company is actually one of the largest users of coal-fired electricity.

“[Walmart] pumps nearly 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution into the air each year.” Hint: that is not a green energy.

Granted, the company has made its attempts, like solar rooftops, but it’s clean energy initiatives only provide 3% of Walmart’s electrical consumption in the United States.

“[…] 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,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher and co-author of the report for ILSR.

coal plant

coal plant

The crux of the problems is the company’s unofficial mission statement of choosing lower prices over more expensive wind or solar sources of energy. If coal is cheaper, Walmart will opt for that rather than spend the extra money. And aside from their cost effective attitude, there are their donations into anti-solar power groups, and the whole toxic shipping materials issue. No one ships as much product across oceans than Walmart, and that is not a win. Shipping goods back and forth releases CO2, black carbon and other greenhouse pollutants.

To hammer their point home, ISLR released these stats that represent Walmart’s shipping impact:

3 — Percentage of human-made CO2 currently emitted from global shipping.

18 — Estimated percentage of human-made CO2 that will be emitted from global shipping in 2050, in a business-as-usual scenario.

1 — Walmart’s rank in the list of top U.S. importers of goods shipped by sea.

291,900 — Number of standard shipping containers imported by Walmart in 2002.

731,500 — Number of containers imported by Walmart in 2013.

11 — Number of Great Pyramids of Giza that could be constructed from Walmart’s 2013 container imports.

8 — Rank of the head of the Panama Canal Authority on a list of the most powerful people in container shipping.

5 —  Rank of Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on this list.

760 million — Number of cars it would take to generate as much sulfur pollution as is emitted by the world’s 15 largest container ships.

254 million — Number of cars registered in the U.S.

$5.2 billion — Amount being spent to expand the Panama Canal, doubling the capacity of cargo that can travel from Asia to the eastern half of the U.S.

4.2 million — Square footage of Walmart’s largest import distribution center, located on the Gulf Coast in Texas.

2.5 — Number of cents it costs to ship a sweater 3,000 miles by sea.

2.2 million — Pounds of black carbon (soot) emitted by marine shipping each year.

2 — Rank of black carbon on the list of top contributing agents to global warming.

60,000 — Annual number of U.S. deaths attributed to black carbon from marine shipping.

2005 — Year in which Walmart’s then-CEO Lee Scott said, “We believe every company has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can.”

14 — Percentage increase since 2005 in Walmart’s self-reported greenhouse house gas emissions.

0 — Share of CO2 produced by Walmart’s global shipping that the company includes in those self-reported figures.

0 — Number of times Walmart’s 134-page 2015 Global Responsibility Report mentions the company’s global shipping operations.

Recently, Mary Pat Tifft of Our Walmart, a band of concerned Walmart employees, brought a proposal to the company’s shareholders to require oversight to curb these irresponsible shipping practices. Though Our Walmart has made some headway into changing certain attitudes, unless Walmart shifts its focus into actually fulfilling their sustainability promises, their efforts will be for naught.