The Common Good

Wal-Mart's Big Green Claim, Part 2

090721-wal-mart[continued from part 1] ... Here is why I am not about to toss my kids into the car and dash out for cheap juice boxes:

1. Even though Wal-Mart will expect suppliers to label the ecological impact of their products, this does not mean that products receiving poor marks will be banned from the shelves; it just shifts the burden of deciding what to do from them to the consumer. You can still buy something even if it says "This product robbed your child's future." It's up to you (not necessarily a bad thing).

2. While Wal-Mart has all these new green claims, I am not at all convinced that the folks responsible for marking their items as good or bad for the planet will be honest. Especially with the massive number of products that Wal-Mart imports from overseas, namely China. My understanding of manufacturing in China is that production there is loosely regulated and at times, impossible to monitor. So who's to say whether or not that six-pack of sippy cups labeled "planet friendly" really is? It's up to honest reporting and monitoring of hundreds of thousands of suppliers. Good luck with that.

3. The folks with Harvard who published this article make an interesting point. They say that this move is "value based capitalism at it's best," meaning that, when left to their own devices, companies can, at times, make wise decisions based on what is right, not always based on the bottom line. Again, I somewhat agree with this and am phenomenally thankful when it happens. But here is my question: Aren't we really talking about a "need/desire based form of capitalism"?

I am not an economist, and if you happen to be an economist who is reading this post, you are likely wincing. But what I am trying to say is that ultimately, a system based on consistently manipulating the consumer to spend is a system based on filling our insatiable needs and desires. The ones that are never, ever met. Just one more dollar. The surface ones that keep us clamoring for more, feeling constantly inadequate, and that keep us in debt. Former President Bush told us to go shopping post-9/11. Obama is trying his hardest to get us out of the doldrums and sailing once again through the malls. No one is taking a moment to consider the fact that maybe we don't need to shop at Wal-Mart (or anywhere else) for that matter.

Wal-Mart's green claims are good but the reality is that they are not a free ride to environmental bliss. They are, at best, a $400+ billion change in the way we do business in the global marketplace. At worst, they are greenwashing and a sort of salve to the part of our soul that silently moans "how you consume comes with a price tag that you cannot afford."

So all this to say, PLEASE think twice before dashing off to shop at Wal-Mart, or the mall, or any other store for that matter. This is not to target Wal-Mart but to target our heart as consumers. We need considerably less than we have and need very little of what we want. And lest you think I am saying all this with some sort of snobbish anti-consumer flair, I will let you know that I am a consumer who has shoe and handbag fetishes, as well as all the desires and trappings of the non-reflective life. And while I do my best to push these desires from my life, they still crop up in the form of cowboy boots and throw pillows. But I am trying here, trying very hard. And I am making some progress. And I hope that you are too. So as you hear green claims, from Wal-Mart or anyone else, stop to think for a moment about whether or not you even need to go to the store in the first place. And then if you do, does it have to be at Wal-Mart? Or can it be the local farmer, hardware store, or coffee shop down the street?

The greenest thing we can do is consume less.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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