2007 seems to be a good year to revisit your plans for sustainable processes and business practices. I’m talking about energy. Wal*Mart is making headlines again with a new solar power initiative –- the world’s largest company has the potential to use its global influence to create a new standard.
Joel Makeower at Two Steps Forward outlines Wal*Mart’s solar energy vision. The giant retail operation issued a request for proposal (RFP) to install solar energy systems in its stores in five states.
According to the RFP, as presented by Makeower, the goal is to establish alternative sources of energy at competitive prices in an arrangement that would allow Wal*Mart to buy solar energy possibly without having to own or purchase the generating systems.
I like the implications of the suggestion that individual homeowners and renters -- just like companies -- should be able to purchase solar energy without owning the power plants, the panels. Can you imagine the impact of such an initiative? It would have the making of a long-term commitment and could have a profound and long-lasting effect on the global solar industry.
Makeower concludes with one important observation: "The company's opportunity is to help bring the price of solar down to earth. The challenge will be to do it in a way that doesn't negatively exploit its suppliers, or those that toil for them."
Aside from the occasional personal experience at a store less than 5 miles from my home, I learned a lot about “the high cost of everyday low prices” from Charles Fishman, author of The Wal*Mart Effect. The premise of our conversation with Fishman last May in Philadelphia had and still has enormous implications:
The forces that operate at Wal*Mart have squeezed retailers, manufacturers, wages and jobs in the name of standardization and commoditization for the pursuit of low prices. What is the overwhelming impact of these forces on the culture of shopping, the shape of communities, and the environment?
It could definitely go both ways. The light bulb went off when Fishman announced that "sitting humbly on shelves in stores everywhere is a product, priced at less than $3, that will change the world." That was in his article for Fast Company September 2006 issue. For this project, Wal*Mart chose to partner with GE, or rather it was a movement they both recognized and decided to embrace, together.
As you read (or scan) the article, see how the change always happens in one place, championed by one person who notices something and then "someone went off and did the math". Why couldn't we all believe in ourselves like that? What does it take to change a business practice?
Fast Company challenged Wal*Mart's wonder truck -- yet another one of the organization's energy savings initiatives -- by deconstructing the company's conservation effort in another article. You might also visit with the company's position and environmental initiatives on the corporate site, which states "one of our toughest challenges as a retailer is determining how to continue to create value for our customers while minimizing our footprint on the environment."
We know that Wal*Mart has tremendous power, and with it, it has the makings of the modern conglomerate we all like to hate. We also know, or we should if not, that we have power ourselves. Each one of us has the potential to change the world -- in our professional stage, personal lives, and sphere(s) of influence. Let's continue the conversation.