Recent revelations that the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart, are funding attacks against the rooftop solar industry called into question the big-box retailer’s very public “100% renewable energy” commitment. A new report by the Institute on Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) documenting Walmart’s massive carbon emissions is likely to add even more fuel to that fire.
According to ILSR, which also exposed the Walton Family’s anti-rooftop solar initiatives, Walmart is one of the heaviest users of coal-fired electricity in the United States, resulting in 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution produced every year by the mega chain’s operations.
Since making its environmental commitments in 2005 with great fanfare, Walmart has done little to honor its pledge to transition to renewable energy and “be a good steward of the environment.”
Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, wrote in April that Walmart’s use of renewables peaked in 2011 and has slipped since then.
“Walmart’s progress on renewable power is particularly pitiful when you look at other retailers,” she added. “Staples, Kohl’s, and Whole Foods, along with numerous small businesses, have already passed the 100 percent renewable power mark.”
Today, just 3% of the electricity powering Walmart’s U.S. stores comes from renewable sources.
“Despite making a public commitment to sustainability nine years ago, Walmart still favors dirty coal-generated electricity over solar and wind, because the company insists on using the cheapest power it can find,” Mitchell said in a statement.
In an email to DeSmog, Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardner said that, “In the U.S., as of 2013, Walmart-driven renewable energy projects provided three percent of our building’s annual electricity needs, and the grid provided another 11 percent for a total of 14 percent renewable electricity in the U.S.”
Gardner also noted that the Solar Energy Industry Association recognized Walmart last month as the U.S. business with the most installed solar capacity at over 105 megawatts, but he declined to comment on what the sources are for the other 86% of Walmart’s electricity consumption and did not respond to questions about Walmart’s carbon emissions.
ILSR’s report says that Walmart’s U.S. operations use more than 4.2 million tons of coal every year, which accounts for nearly 75% of the company’s emissions from electricity use in the U.S.
The report also notes that more than half of the Congressional candidates supported by Walmart and the Walton Family in the 2011-2012 election cycle favor dirty energy and oppose action on climate change. The Walton Family has also spent its money to essentially buy green cred in the past. For instance, the Walton Family Fund has given the Environmental Defense Fund, which Grist once called “Walmart’s right-hand man in the green game,” some $66 million since 2005. “It turns out, unlike most Walmart jobs, that’s a pretty lucrative gig to have,” Grist wrote.
As Walmart workers continue to go on strike to protest low wages, it’s worth noting that “there is a close correlation between low wages and high emissions,” according to Naomi Klein in her latest book, This Changes Everything. “And why wouldn’t there be?” Klein writes. “The same logic that is willing to work laborers to the bone for pennies a day will burn mountains of dirty coal while spending next to nothing on pollution controls because it’s the cheapest way to produce.”
“Walmart could single-handedly strengthen the middle class and help create a vibrant clean energy economy that promotes good jobs,” Green For All executive director Jeremy Hays says. “After years of empty promises, Walmart should be using its power and wealth to build stronger and more sustainable communities, not disrespecting workers and endangering the future of our planet.”
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