TLP: Green, For Lack of a Better Word, is Good
Americans, apparently, have gotten over the WTF factor of buying their groceries alongside motor oil, office supplies, Mom jeans, video games and nearly everything else. Yes, Wal-Mart is the world's largest grocer. And now, the company is turning locavore, putting locally grown produce in its stores.
The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.This is a good thing, right? Supporting local growers has its green benefits, certainly, and should be popular with shoppers who'd rather get food fresher than what comes off of the 18-wheelers run by big food suppliers. Plus, it's good PR for Wal-Mart, which is used to being criticized for the impact its massive stores have on the viability of some local businesses.
Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business, but they questioned how “local” a $405 billion company with two million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.
Given that Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains, any change it made would have wide implications. Wal-Mart’s decision five years ago to set sustainability goals that, among other things, increased its reliance on renewable energy and reduced packaging waste among its suppliers sent broad ripples through product manufacturers. Large companies like Procter & Gamble redesigned packages that are now carried by other retailers, while Wal-Mart’s measurements of the environmental efficiency of its suppliers helped define how they needed to change.
“No other retailer has the ability to make more of a difference than Wal-Mart,” the retailer’s president and chief executive, Michael T. Duke, said in remarks prepared for a meeting on Thursday morning. “Grocery is more than half of Wal-Mart’s business. Yet only four of our 39 public sustainability goals address food.”
But another green aspect of this development is the green of envy from competitors, who have just seen the ante raised and may feel compelled to match Wal-Mart in stocking local or fresher produce. Generally, that's a costlier alternative and not everyone can match the resources Wal-Mart has to put into this venture.
But if Wal-Mart's competitors find themselves spending more green to sell greener products, well, that's just business, right?