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Wal-Mart CEO Sets New Goals To Limit Environmental Impact

By Michael Barbaro 
and Felicity Barringer
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BENTONVILLE, ARK.

Wal-Mart’s chief executive is set to announce on Tuesday a set of sweeping, specific environmental goals to reduce energy use in its stores, double its trucks’ fuel efficiency, minimize its use of packaging and pressure the thousands of companies in its worldwide supply chain to follow its lead.

Embracing energy-conscious and environment-conscious goals will help both the company’s bottom line and the needs of its consumers, H. Lee Scott, the chief executive, said in an interview Monday.

Scott’s announcement signals that the nation’s largest retailer is joining the nation’s largest manufacturer, General Electric, in pursuing new policies that set specific goals for environmental performance, while advertising those goals to shareholders and customers and the public as strategic business decisions.

GE faced criticism for its own environmental practices; Wal-Mart has faced criticism as well, but largely over its low wages, scant health insurance coverage and what its critics have called poor treatment of workers. Those critics responded to Wal-Mart’s environmental initiative by saying that, while admirable, it is intended to divert attention from the chain’s image problems.

“As one of the largest companies in the world, with an expanding global presence, environmental problems are our problems,” Scott told Wal-Mart’s top officers here Monday morning, in an address broadcast to employees by video conference.

His goals, he said, are to invest $500 million in technologies that will reduce greenhouse gases from stores and distribution centers by 20 percent over the next seven years; increase the fuel efficiency of the chain’s truck fleet by 25 percent over the next three years and double it within 10 years, and design a new store that is at least 25 percent more energy efficient within four years.

News of the upcoming announcement drew carefully parsed praise from leaders of environmental groups, including some, like Environmental Defense, which have a history of joint initiatives with large businesses, and others, like the Sierra Club, which have traditionally been more confrontational.

In general, they applauded Wal-Mart’s initiatives and commitments, but sought assurances that there would be a continuing public accounting — using a concrete baseline — of factors like energy use, fuel efficiency and reduction in solid waste.