Wal-Mart: the Real Story

Oct 022006
Authors: Kevin Dudley

There comes a point in every reporter’s career (I use both of those words lightly) when he must ask himself, “Is writing for entertainment purposes all I’m going to do every week?”

Well, most of the time this answer will be, yes, most definitely.

But this week I am going to betray some of you, and in the words of white rappers everywhere, try to “drop a lil’ knowledge on yo ass.” I apologize in advance.

I would like to set the record straight. This anti Wal-Mart mentality has gone on just long enough; it’s time for you Wal-Mart haters to see the other side of the story. So prepare yourselves, because I’m about to put you deep inside the mental hurt locker (I’m pretty sure somewhere along the line I sold my soul to the devil for the power of literary device).

I’ve never been a big fan of Wal-Mart either, but if we look at what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, we might change our minds, or at least open them.

For the most part, Wal-Mart has been as big as they are because of the low prices and “get it from anywhere cheap” philosophy. Not to mention their ability to ship goods faster and cheaper than any other company, and it is this reason that they leave most competitors in a cloud of Asian children’s sweat and the remnants of thousands of acres of South American rain forests.

Wal-Mart can do no right in most people’s eyes, while in the eyes of others, it is the life line that allows them to survive on $5.50 an hour that our government is so graciously allowing them to have.

No need to thank them yet; that was sarcasm.

While I love what places like Whole Foods and Wild Oats are doing, they’re in no way affecting the market like Wal-Mart can and is doing and are only catering to a certain class of people.

It’s safe to say that Wal-Mart consumes a lot of resources. They also spend a lot of money and this is the fuel in the fire for becoming, for lack of a better term, Eco-Mart.

For those who don’t know what’s going on, in so many words, Wal-Mart is going green. Say what you may, but that not only IS happening, it’s what needs to happen no matter the reasons for the changes.

Try and swallow this.

Wal-Mart is now the nation’s largest consumer of organic cotton, which is being bought from local suppliers around stores to save on shipping. All the fish they sell is harvested using sustainable methods in Alaska. They are in the process of increasing efficiency in their shipping fleets by 25 percent and reducing solid waste and energy consumption in their stores by 30 percent.

They have put hundreds of millions of dollars into sustainable projects. They are the nation’s largest seller of organic milk. They have already opened two green super centers. And if that’s not enough, they are influencing 60,000 suppliers to follow in their tracks or risk losing Wal-Mart’s business, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Going green is not always just about saving rain forests and harvesting resources in an environmentally friendly way. It also encompasses common sense – for instance, not overpackaging products, or saving shelf space by marketing condensed forms of, say, laundry detergents, which Wal-Mart is also doing.

Baby steps my friend, baby steps. You must crawl before you walk and this is no different. Wal-Mart is taking the initiative and starting what may be an environmental revolution.

We in America want things to happen quickly, especially with issues concerning the environment. What we may not realize is that things take time and compromises must be met, bridges crossed. Things can’t happen all at once; it takes time and small advances like these to turn a culture based on price into a culture that cares about its impacts on the environment.

In terms of corporations, these are still businesses and money is the number one priority. If they have found a way to turn a profit by lessening their impacts on this earth, why would we question them?

Wal-Mart has taken a good leap in the right direction and is only going further. No matter the reasons behind their changes (mainly monetary) they have more power and influence to help change our environment than any other entity in the world.

I’m in no way saying that this is enough. There are many hurtles to overcome and many issues that need be addressed.

For instance, Wal-Mart is currently working on helping “mom and pop” type businesses and giving more benefits to employees. In the world of natural resource management, we learn to see the whole picture.

The environment wasn’t decapitated in a day. How we could think we can revive it in one is beyond me.

Kevin Dudley is a senior natural resources major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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