Only one entity can bring China to its knees—and that’s Wal-Mart.
This week, top executives from Wal-Mart are in Beijing for the company’s first global supply chain summit, according to The Wall Street Journal. At the summit, Wal-Mart brass will establish energy-efficiency requirements for all Chinese suppliers and then take those requirements to all other suppliers in 2010.
Suppliers are howling in protest because the bad economy has battered China’s manufacturing sector and Wal-Mart’s mandates are reportedly a huge upfront cost. But Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer by revenue, is pushing forward.
There is something remarkably unsustainable about a chain of retail stores that sell junk—food and otherwise—bound for the dumpster. Meanwhile, its actual stores swallow enormous swaths of land and burn huge amounts of power. Its trucks crisscross the world night and day.
But based on influence, Wal-Mart is easily the world’s greenest company.
Sure you could rattle off dozens of companies with plans for zero carbon emissions, even some meeting those goals right now. But a company with 20 employees and little influence—even if that company takes sulfur and uses it to somehow restore the polar ice caps—is less effective than Wal-Mart.
By applying pressure to its countless suppliers worldwide, Wal-Mart can set the agenda for sustainability faster than any government or nonprofit. Basically, Wal-Mart has created a domino effect—one fueled by money. And that, more than any social conscious, will drive any green business revolution.
Of course, someone must shoulder the high cost of doing business that sustainability requires (at least upfront). If those costs are handed down to the consumer then we’ll see if the engine that fuels Wal-Mart—the customer—really wants its big box retailer to lead the green revolution.
And later we'll worry about the wasteful lifestyles Wal-Mart encourages and sustains.