The Truth about Walmart’s Environmental Record

Sustainability has mostly been a public relations campaign for Walmart. The company has written hundreds of press releases and thousands of blog posts but made little actual progress in reducing the environmental impact of its products.

  • Despite promises to move to 100% renewable energy, only 4% of the company’s US power comes from renewable sources according to the EPA.
  • Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing instead of shrinking.
  • Walmart’s focus on cutting costs leaves consumers with lower quality goods which are thrown out and replaced faster than ever before.

Falling behind on green energy

Walmart claims the company is working to reduce greenhouse emissions, but only six percent of Walmart’s energy is generated from its own Walmart-driven renewable energy project. In 2005, then-CEO Lee Scott set a goal of being supplied 100% by renewable energy – this would include both generated and purchased renewable energy. For fiscal year 2016, Walmart reports that it is supplied by just 25 percent renewable energy. However the EPA reports that Walmart receives only four percent of its US power usage from renewable sources. Many other retailers are much further along. Some, like Kohl’s, Starbucks, H&M and REI, get all of their electricity from renewable sources. Others, like Ahold (18 percent) and Best Buy (14 percent), are also ahead of Walmart, according to the EPA.

In the absence of green energy Walmart relies upon coal-fired electricity. One analyst estimated that Walmart’s dependence on coal “pumps nearly 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution into the air each year.”

Increasing greenhouse gases

Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing, not shrinking. Between 2005 and 2014, its global climate change emissions grew from 18.9 to 21.9 million metric tons. These emissions are higher than all the other similar companies who participated in the CDP S&P 500 Climate Change Report for 2015.

When Walmart reports these emissions, it only counts some of the climate pollution it generates.  It doesn’t, for example, include the pollution from ocean shipping, which is a significant and rapidly growing source of climate pollution. In 2009, The Guardian reported that just one giant container ship can emit as much pollution as 50 million cars. Marine shipping could account for as much as 18% of global CO2 by 2050.

Generating More Trash for Landfills

Although Walmart has pledged to create zero waste, many retailers—including Walmart—are selling lower quality goods than they used to. This is in large part thanks to Walmart, whose relentless drive to cut costs has pushed suppliers to make cheap goods that must be replaced more frequently.

Likely due to the Walmart influence on apparel manufacturing, Americans are throwing away 83 pounds of textiles, mostly old clothing, each year—four times as much as they did in the 1980s. This system is a win-win for Walmart; consumers attracted by low prices will buy cheap goods, and they will have to come shop again for replacements when the original items break or wear out.