Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wal-Mart, Salmon and Environmental Defense

This post (on The Writing On the Wal blog), concerning Environmental Defense opening an office in Bentonville, AR, immediately caught my attention today.

Wal-Mart has started a campaign to be more environmentally friendly because it saves the company money in the long run and gives them badly needed PR. You can read all about the new 'green' Wal-Mart here.
In Wal-Mart’s case, Environmental Defense was one of several groups Wal-Mart contacted in early 2005 to help formulate a green policy unveiled by Scott last October. Under that plan, Wal-Mart set goals of using 100 percent renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling more products that sustain the environment.
Environmental Defense is the group that got MacDonald's to stop using styrofoam containers in packaging their food. So they can be an effective organization. They often use economic arguments to convince companies that it is cost-effective to do what is right concerning the environment. However, it's easy for Wal-Mart to require that suppliers not let their truck engines idle while making deliveries or to change store lighting to save on energy costs. But other recommended changes may require Wal-Mart to do things that are against the Wal-Mart 'Always low prices, always' culture.

Wal-Mart is one of the biggest sellers of farmed seafood in the world, but they have been criticized (a chapter from Charles Fishmans book, The Wal-Mart Effect) for the effects on the environment of these fish farms, especially salmon farms in Chile. [Note: careful about reading this article, you may never eat farmed salmon again.] Environmental Defense on the other hand, has an ongoing campaign to change the fish farming industry. Environmenal Defense goes so far as to claim that eating farmed salmon could be harmful to your health. Several months ago, Wal-Mart vowed to only sell fish obtained from environmentally sound sources.
The world's largest retailer has pledged that all of its U.S. fresh and frozen fish, excluding farmed fish, will eventually come from fisheries certified as being "sustainable" by the Marine Stewardship Council, meaning that the sea areas they come from are not being over-fished.
So here is a question for Environmental Defense and for Wal-Mart. (1) Is Wal-Mart going to require it's suppliers of farmed salmon to follow the salmon fish farming recommendations of Environmental Defense? (2) Will Wal-Mart allow the fish farmers to raise their prices to cover these changes?

Lee Scott wants the fish farming industry to raise it's standards, but the fish farming industry farms the way it does because Wal-Mart forces them to cut costs.
Part of the reason Wal-Mart can sell a salmon fillet for $4.84 is that, as Leape puts it, "they don't internalize all the costs." Pollution ultimately costs money--to clean up, to prevent, to recover from. But right now those costs aren't in the price of a pound of Chilean salmon. (From the Fishman article)
An MSNBC web poll shows that 61% of respondents don't believe that Wal-Mart will live up to its environmental pledge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of the 61% - I'll believe it when I see it but I will watch for it. This is one of many places Wal-Mart can use some of it's billions of profits to address real concerns in our society. We'll see.......