Wal-mart's been so successful in getting itself seen as a leader in sustainability and renewable energy, President Obama chose one of the company's stores as the location for his announcement of new executive actions aimed at promoting energy efficiency and green jobs.
But the company's actual achievements, a new report suggests, are a lot less commendable -- Wal-Mart, it finds, is one of the nation's top users of coal-fired electricity. Renewables, meanwhile, made up for only 3 percent of its U.S. electricity generation in 2013, down from 4 percent in 2011.
The report, released Thursday the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, finds that nearly a decade after Wal-mart launched a much-publicized sustainability initiative, it's virtually no closer to moving away from fossil fuels. Its coal use, on the contrary, spews about 8 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year.
And that's not even including the coal-powered factories in China and other developing nations, as Katherine Bagley at InsideClimate News points out, which produce many of the company's products.
“Wal-mart has made remarkably little progress in moving to renewable energy, while other national retailers and many small businesses are now generating a sizable share of their power from clean sources,” Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, said in a statement. “Despite making a public commitment to sustainability nine years ago, Wal-mart still favors dirty coal-generated electricity over solar and wind, because the company insists on using the cheapest power it can find.”
A spokesperson for Wal-mart disputed that claim, citing the company's claim that it gets 24 percent of its energy from renewables. Bagley explains that the large discrepancy could come from the fact that much of that comes from the company tapping into renewable energy sources that already exist, while the 3 percent figure represents the amount it actually produces with its own wind and solar products. Basically, the report argues that Wal-mart chooses renewables in states where that's already a cheap option. But when in coal country, it sticks to the status quo, getting the majority of its electricity from the fossil fuel-powered grid.
The report's findings are disappointing, although they won't come as a surprise to many. Last year, leading environmental groups slammed the company for its shoddy environmental record, along with its notorious treatment of its employees.