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  • Solar panels and skylights on the roof of the Wal-Mart in Santa Fe Springs, California, on April 18, 2011. Wal-Mart installed the solar panels and skylights, and painted the roof white, in a bid to slash energy consumption and improve its bottom line. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles/MCT)
  • Energy-saving LED lights for sale at Wal-Mart in Santa Fe Springs, California, on April 18, 2011. Wal-Mart installed solar panels and skylights, and painted the roof white, in a bid to slash energy consumption and improve its bottom line. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles/MCT)
Friday, June 17, 2011

Walmart going eco-friendly to cut expenses

LOS ANGELES – Wal-Mart wants to extract more green out of greening.

The retail giant’s supercenter in Lancaster, Calif., recently installed fuel cells that provide half of the electricity to the 222,876-square-foot store. It has punched holes in the roof for skylights that provide 70 percent of the store’s lighting needs during the day. To help keep the scorching sun at bay and cool the building naturally, it has painted the roof white.

The store has been recognized for being eco-friendly, but Wal-Mart Stores Inc. officials say they’re actually happier with how the upgrades have improved the bottom line. Since it began installing solar panels at several stores, the company says it has shaved $1 million from its electricity bill.

“We think it’s good business,” said Kimberly Sentovich, senior vice president of Wal-Mart’s Pacific Division. “We don’t only want to do things that are good for the environment.”

Not even a decade ago, the world’s largest company was reviled as an environmental villain. Activists condemned Wal-Mart, and many other retail behemoths were condemned for wasting natural resources by relying on a sprawling network of suppliers. Wal-Mart’s massive supply chain had an outsized impact on the environment, they said.

Now, Wal-Mart and many mega-companies – whether because of outside pressures or an internal change of heart – are preaching that being green makes good business sense.

Some critics are not convinced and contend they are just “greenwashing” – a marketing ploy without any real eco-friendly results. Others suggest they are making the efforts only to stay competitive.

Wal-Mart and some other major companies are more straightforward. They say they are being driven by the bottom line and see any resulting public goodwill as a side benefit.