Wal-mart Launches Sustainability Index
Lot of chatter in the enviro press lately about Wal-mart's new Sustainability Index, and possible plans to establish a sustainability label for the products it sells, somewhat akin to nutrition labels currently on food packaging.
Yes, you say, but it's Wal-mart.
Time was, the two corporations most likely to induce involuntary mouth frothing on the part of environmentalists were Exxon and Wal-mart. While Exxon represented no-holds-barred, climate-change denying, save-a-few-tigers-but-trash-the-rest anti-environmentalism, Wal-mart brought to mind big box, community killing, unsustainable consumption of stuff we do not need. Produced and sold by people who aren't paid very much. (It's all explained--via banjo--in this hilarious video by JibJab.)
Walmart has embarked, in recent years, to change its image and embrace environmental stewardship. (Still waiting for Exxon.) Many enviros and labor activists, of course, feel it's all just greenwashing. But I happen to know someone who's a bit of a greenwashing expert, and who has been inside the corporate lair in Bentonville. He's no Wal-mart apologist, but he does say that from what he's seen, their greening efforts are legit, and many of the people involved are very sincere.
As for the Sustainability Index, here's a little expert analysis by Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com. I would characterize his stance (as well as the stances of others linked to in his piece) as "not overwhelmed, but cautiously optimistic." He points out that, despite what the press is focusing on, actual product ratings are a long, long way down the road, and not currently in the works. But overall, he sees this effort as "a bold move, one that stands to raise the bar on sustainability and transparency, empowering both retailers and consumers to leverage their buying power to affect change."
I'm encouraged by Joel's realistic but hopeful words. And if this ever does result in actual product ratings for consumers to see, that would be fantastic. For years, New American Dream has lamented the fact that far too many of the environmental costs associated with everyday consumer items are hidden from view, lost in a distribution chain with tendrils stretching across the globe. We want to make the right choices. We don't always know what those are. Providing some of that life cycle analysis to consumers at the point of purchase may not influence every purchase... but it will influence some purchases. (I think of my own off and on relationship with nutrition labels.) And that will, in turn, influences the market.
Even if you don't love Wal-mart, that is something to root for.