Wal-Mart in pledge to slash its carbon footprint

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The Independent Online

Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world and owner of Asda, pledged yesterday to slash its carbon footprint by barring products that contribute to global warming from its shelves.

Lee Scott, the supermarket chain's chief executive, promised to take non-renewable energy "off our shelves and out of the lives of our customers". He made the commitment in a speech in London at the invitation of the Prince of Wales, who he met 18 months ago.

"Forgive the jargon, but we think sustainability is cool," he told the audience of high-level environmentalists, corporate executives and government officials. "And perhaps more than anything else, we see sustainability as mainstream."

He called on each of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million employees, including 150,000 in the UK, to make one element of their lives more green by, for example, switching to energy-saving lightbulbs or buying organic produce.

Mr Scott's speech comes 18 months after the retailer first tried to change its corporate spots in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm wrought havoc on New Orleans, but enabled Wal-Mart to score some useful public relations points by stepping into the gap left by the US authorities by delivering vital supplies to survivors.

Yesterday's drive, dubbed "sustainability 360", built on Wal-Mart's initial three-pronged plan to save the world by using only 100 per cent renewable energy; creating zero waste; and selling products that sustain the environment. Asda, which Mr Scott claimed "has been leading on sustainability for some time", is seeking to send no waste to landfills by 2010.

The race to capture the green moral high ground has gone into overdrive in recent days with Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy promising to create a "carbon calorie counter" for every product the UK's biggest retailer sells, and Marks & Spencer seeking to make its business carbon-neutral within five years.

Green pressure groups have given the promises a cautious welcome but many environmentalists are treating the pledges with a generous dose of salt. Sandra Bell, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said Wal-Mart and Tesco's expansion policies contradicted their green agendas and questioned their commitment to cutting their carbon footprints. "In the UK, Asda is pushing to free up planning policy to build more out-of-town stores which would really damage our town centres and result in a lot more car-based travel, which will increase the amount of carbon emitted," she said.

Other initiatives Mr Scott unveiled last night included sourcing more products from ethical suppliers and cutting the amount of packaging on food sold at Asda by 25 per cent by the end of 2008. He said Wal-Mart would "invest more" in the 200-strong team at its Bentonville headquarters dedicated to ethical sourcing but declined to be specific.

Lowering the group's carbon footprint would rely on suppliers making products that rely "less and less on carbon-based energy," Mr Scott said.

He made no comment about reducing the proportion of air-freighted goods on sale, but echoed Sir Terry's goal of cutting the price of being green for the 176 million people who shop each week in one of Wal-Mart's stores spread across 14 countries.

"We want our merchandise to be both affordable and sustainable because, when it is, we empower our customers to make the right decisions," Mr Scott said.

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