5 Radically Sustainable Ideas for Wal-Mart (PPB #6)


As long-time readers know, I’ve been a fan of Wal-Mart’s shift in more sustainable directions. You might imagine, though, that such admiration isn’t necessarily shared by people practicing more radically sustainable lifestyles: Annie Leonard noted in the book The Story of Stuff, for instance, that the company’s model of selling lots of “stuff” just can’t be made sustainable.

No doubt there will be continued disagreement on efforts by big companies to move in greener directions. This morning, I had a brainstorm (in the shower, of course) of some even more radical steps the world’s biggest retailer might take in its efforts to green its business. (Note: I’ve done no research on feasibility here, so critique away).

Some (Relatively) Radical Sustainability Ideas for Wal-Mart

      1. The world’s biggest refill station: The company makes a lot of money on the sale of household products such as cleaners, laundry detergents, etc… why not offer container refilling as an option to buying a new bottle of a product (a la Biokleen)?
      2. The world’s largest product service system provider: From small items like Blu-Ray disks to larger ones like televisions and appliances, could the company (and maybe other big retailers like Best Buy) make a profit by offering product service (i.e., rental) to their customers? Why not harness Wal-Mart’s influence over suppliers to make products longer-lasting, and easily refurbishable?
      3. The world’s largest farmer’s market: Yes, many Wal-Mart stores now stock some locally-sourced produce, but why not bring the farmers to their customers? Instead of finding those products and shipping them in, create spaces within the stores for the farmers to sell them… could work as a loss leader?
      4. The world’s largest CSA pick-up point: Much like #3, why not designate space for farmers running community-supported agriculture programs to distribute their wares to subscribers?
      5. The world’s largest community garden: Could some of that acreage designated for parking be set up with raised beds for others to garden? The store could sell seeds, and other supplies (though they’d probably want to keep it organic to avoid problems with gardeners not using fertilizers and pesticides wisely around others).

Just thinking out loud here (it’s the blogathon way)… love to hear your responses to these brainstorms… and, of course, consider making a donation to Dancing Rabbit while you’re responding!

Image credit: Wal-Mart

  1. Otto

    Walmart and many other large stores now have organic seeds, something we would not have seen five years ago. That being said, the problem really is stuff and the abundance of stuff. Walmart has so much stuff that by the time a customer leaves they almost always have several things they did not plan to buy and do not need. The post on the reasons for loving Dancing Rabbit hit home. We would all be happier with less stuff and more time to enjoy life.

  2. Becky

    I’ll be honest: Walmart and food together makes me a little nervous. They’re notorious for pressuring suppliers to get lower and lower prices, and so many farmers have it tough enough already. When it comes to produce, food producers seem to benefit most from small loconomies, like farmers markets/CSAs.

    The refilling station idea is genius! It’s so in line with Walmart’s sensibility already…they could give folks a discount for bringing their own bottle to fill, sort of like the grocery bag discount. Love it!

  3. Hillerns

    Refilling alone immediately creates a net positive for the retailer. Lower prices, less energy consumed, lower transportation costs, less inventory warehousing, residual purchase by refillers. Shall I continue?

    Well done. All good ideas.

  4. Tony

    How about gardening on the roof instead! Think of all that space just being wasted. Plus, living roofs can reduce heating and cooling needs. Or maybe they should coat the roofs with solar panels!

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