Next time you're cooling off in a Wal-Mart store on a hot summer
day, picture solar panels on the roof powering super-efficient air-
conditioning equipment. Then multiply that picture a million times
across the rooftops of corporate America.
It's a fresh vision of the nation's energy future that energy
efficiency experts say is more likely now that US business finally
has its bell cow - Wal-Mart - to lead the herd to greener energy
pastures. Its new "green" plan, announced this week, seeks to get
all of its energy from renewable sources.
Despite numerous lawsuits charging the retailing behemoth with
environmental violations, some experts say it and other companies do
appear interested in tapping energy efficiency to improve their
bottom lines - not just their green image. It is move that could
bring business and environmental interests closer together.
"We've had other businesses that understood energy efficiency as
a key to fattening the bottom line - but now we've got Wal-Mart,"
says Neal Elliott, industrial program director for the American
Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy think tank in
Washington. "Having the nation's biggest retailer on board is going
to make a big difference in how much attention other companies pay
to this issue."
While energy efficiency has not been a prime interest of American
business since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s, a growing
number of companies have been focusing on paring energy costs and
reducing global warming.
Whole Foods Market based in California installed super-efficient
appliances, solar power and lighting, and high- efficiency air-
conditioning equipment in its stores. About 20 percent of the
company's power is generated or purchased green power, according to
Others, like office-supply discounter Staples, have filled their
stores and distribution centers with energy saving lighting,
heating, and ventilating controls, cutting energy use by 12 percent
in the past four years. Now the Framingham, Mass.-based company is
deploying solar panels atop the roofs of distribution centers, and
developing a plan for rooftop solar for its 1,200 US stores to hedge
against higher electricity costs.
At Tuesday's announcement, Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott put energy
efficiency and renewable energy at the center of its environmental
plan. The company's aim, he says, is to get 100 percent of its
energy from renewable sources; cut energy use in stores by 30
percent, cut fuel consumption in its truck fleet by 25 percent over
three years - and continue to improve, doubling mileage over a
The company already has a test store in Texas up and running with
solar panels. Its huge truck fleet is being outfitted with plastic
skirts to cut wind resistance. Adding even one mile per gallon to
the fleet can save $2 million a year, he says.
"If Wal-Mart or Staples can show how it can run business with an
eye toward sustainability, we think that's a good thing," says Mark
Buckley, Staples' vice president of environmental affairs. "We're
doing it first and foremost because it's the right thing, but it's
also good, smart business."
Environmentalists are cautiously optimistic. While noting
concerns about a raft of environmental lawsuits in California, in
particular, and Wal-Mart labor practices, some hard-core
environmentalists are intrigued by Wal-Mart's plan and possible
energy revival in US business.
"Wal-Mart's new commitments to increase efficiency and reduce
pollution and waste are important first steps for a company that has
such a profound impact on our environment," says Carl Pope,
executive director of the Sierra Club. "More companies should take
these positive steps."
Designing buildings with efficiency in mind is one key to
commercial energy savings, which many hospitals, schools, and
offices are already doing. …