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January 02, 2007

Credit Where Credit is Due

Wal-mart goes green?  That takes a while to grasp ahold of.   The New York Times is reporting that Wal-Mart Stores is encouraging their shoppers to save energy by buying those odd-looking compact fluorescent bulbs rather than the conventional incandescent bulbs.  While available for 25 years or so, only 6% of American households currently use the new bulbs.  Wal-Mart's goal is to sell 100 million of them by 2008 using all the sales savvy they have to make this campaign work.  They have placed the new bulbs at eye level.  More sales.  They have installed them in their floor lamps for sales.  More folks buying the bulbs.  They have educational information taking up shelf space.  More sales.  They are serious.  If they are able to achieve their goal, it will increase use of the bulbs in the US by 50%, saving $3 billion in electricity costs and diminishing the need to build additional power plants equal to the amount of power used in 450,000 new houses.   

What gives?  According to the NYT article by Michael Barbaro:   

More than a year ago, Mr. Scott, the company’s chief executive, began reaching out to some of environmental groups, telling them that Wal-Mart, long regarded as an environmental offender, wanted to become a leader on issues like fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.

Well, I'd heard that but like most, gave it little credence.  But, believe it.  Something is happening and it appears to be more than an attempt to appeal to those of us who typically don't shop at Wal-Mart.  Late last year, H. Lee Scott, Jr., Wal-Mart's CEO, went looking to use Wal-Mart's influence to improve the environment.  In talks with Steve Hamburg, environmental studies professor at Brown University, Scott heard about climate change, global warming, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and . . . compact fluorescent bulbs.  Here's why:

A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb.

The downside?

But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart is meeting some resistance from traditional suppliers particularly General Electric, Wal-Mart's largest bulb supplier.  Wal-Mart let them know they could come or not, their decision.  They decided to come along.

The results?  Well, it's taking a while.  In August, Wal-Mart sold nearly twice as many as it had sold the previous August but it wasn't nearly enough.  So, they began reaching out to Internet companies, filmmakers and even to competing retailers, deciding they would need to turn their sales campaign into a "broader cultural movement".  They will be partnering with Google and Yahoo and probably a filmmaker or two.  But both Home Depot and Lowe's declined to participate. 

The entire campaign has put "Wal-Mart in the strange position of racing ahead of its customers and coaxing them, bulb by bulb, toward energy conservation".

Something is happening in the world.  Now if they would just talk to the folks in the White House. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on January 2, 2007 at 12:14 AM in Best Practices | Permalink

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