Eco blogs are buzzing this week over Fortune Magazine’s lead article (“The Green Machine,” August 14, 2006) The world’s largest retailer has learned that green is good for business. Much of the chatter questions Wal-Mart’s true intentions; after all, this is a company that has been a magnet for bad PR for paying low hourly wages, offering poor employee healthcare benefits, discriminating employees based on gender, and for putting mom and pop retailers out of business when it comes to town.
But, business is business and Wal-Mart is learning that consumer needs and attitudes are evolving. Latent markets exist for eco-friendly products – if the price is right. One example: Sam’s Club sold nearly 200,000 organic cotton tops ($14) and bottoms ($10) within ten weeks. To create these new markets, Wal-Mart is leveraging its overwhelming purchasing power to keep costs low and to motivate suppliers to bring innovative, eco-friendly products to them. The result: Wal-Mart has the potential to reshape the landscape when it comes to eco-certified products and eco-friendly packaging.
Wal-Mart has a long way to go to demonstrate to the skeptics that this positive PR is genuinely deserved. Nonetheless, with curious bed fellows such as Greenpeace, Wal-Mart has come a long way.