Wal-Mart invites Gore to eco-conference

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The Independent Online

Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned eco-warrior, is taking his climate change soapbox to Bentonville, Arkansas, to preach to the executives and employees at Wal-Mart.

The world's biggest retailer has invited Mr Gore to be the star turn at its quarterly "sustainability conference" this week, where he will deliver a version of his lecture warning of impending environmental disaster.

Wal-Mart, which owns Asda in the UK, is routinely traduced for its impact on local communities and for poor treatment of its workers. But it is making a concerted effort to improve its image in the area of environmental sustainability.

The day-long conference at the company's headquarters on Wednesday is expected to be attended by more than 2,000 employees, or associates, as Wal-Mart calls them. Lee Scott, the company's chief executive, will be among them.

Delegates will hear reports on efforts across the company to reduce its impact on the environment. Wal-Mart has promised in recent months to decrease the amount of energy it uses at the same time as it increases its range of products manufactured from sustainable sources.

In many areas, a green policy is making strong business sense, particularly because of the rising cost of fuel and other energy bills. Wal-Mart has saved money by kitting out its fleet of US delivery trucks with power units that reduce by 90 per cent the amount of fuel used when they are idling. And it is switching its distribution centres to energy-saving light bulbs, which come on only when there is activity in the area.

More recently, it has trumpeted its efforts to limit the amount of packaging on many Wal-Mart products, and has been pressuring suppliers to do the same.

Mr Gore's lecture has been turned into a feature film, An Inconvenient Truth, which has become a word-of-mouth hit since its release in May. Its central message is that, while soaring carbon emissions have put the world on the verge of dramatic climate change, individuals and businesses could take plenty of simple actions to head off environmental disaster.