Friday, February 03, 2006

Lee Scott: Environmental Steward

My brief tenure at WAL-MART has been a very significant time for the company. According to CEO Lee Scott, Hurricane Katrina marked a turning point for the corporation; no doubt after their donation of merchandise and timely delivery efforts generated widespread accolades. This PR coup stymied the increasingly vocal and well-organized opposition groups, that is until a memo was leaked suggesting various under-handed strategies for the board to deny benefits to employees. On its heels came the debut of the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, which was shown to a million people worldwide. Scott came back swinging, unveiling a barrage of new initiatives. WAL-MART would now offer a Value Plan in an effort to insure more workers. WAL-MART would support a higher minimum wage to help out its impoverished customers. WAL-MART would become a green company and “a good steward for the environment.” The whole thing was so out of left field that you just had to laugh.

As much as I would like to be encouraged by Scott’s proposed reforms, given their track record I could not help but be skeptical. The Value Plan still has high deductibles and many hidden charges, with little meaningful coverage for employees. Pushing for a higher minimum wage without offering their own employees a livable wage reveals the company’s motivation not as humanitarian but as yet another money grab. But perhaps Scott’s aim to become a green company was the most surprising about face. Over the next three years WAL-MART would improve the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet, favor “green” factories in China, and reduce waste from its domestic stores. Up until this point the company has demonstrated an utter disregard for the environment and has repeatedly been ordered to pay fines for violating the Clean Water Act in a number of states. However, most of the environmental damage wrought by WAL-MART is institutionalized and therefore much harder to stop. For example, the retailer had $18 billion worth of goods assembled in China in 2004, meaning that tons of toxic emissions were released by ships and trucks in the unnecessary detour back and forth across the Pacific Ocean.

Closer to home, my store does not recycle its plastic clothes hangers, instead throwing them away. While this may seem like a nit-picky qualm, you have to realize that my store easily has hundreds of hangers left over from sales at the end of each day; multiplying this number by 365 days and 5,000 some stores and you realize that we are talking about hundreds of millions of perfectly good hangers being sent to our nation’s landfills. WAL-MART could reuse these hangers, but it would take a little bit of effort… and what is in it for them anyways? However, from now on, whenever I think of WAL-MART’s utter lack of concern for issues like the environment I will think of dead birds. Before winter set in my store undertook some renovations in their Lawn and Garden Department, exposing a hole to the outside. Through this opening dozens of birds flew into the store, buzzing from department to department and shitting on the merchandise. I noticed the birds late one night while returning products to Lawn and Garden and realized that they were trapped inside the store. Needless to say my concern fell on deaf ears; one employee could only lament what a messy job it was to fish the dead birds out from on top of the racks of merchandise. Over the next couple weeks no less than four different concerned customers came up to alert me that someone needed to free the birds from inside the store. Toeing the party line I promised them that someone was looking into it, before rushing back to the job at hand. I wish I had saved those birds.

One of the main reasons I chose to work at the Supercenter that I did was the unbelievable sprawl that WAL-MART had started near my hometown (although sometimes it’s hard to know which came first, the store or the suburb…) In the city I worked in it was definitely WAL-MART. Fifteen years ago when the company first started building on the lot on the outskirts of town there was nothing, except hills and trees. Once WAL-MART and SAM’S CLUB moved in it was all over. Barnes & Noble, Michael’s, Staples, Home Depot, Old Navy, Linens N' Things, Radio Shack, Eddie Bauer, Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cicuit City; the horror show goes on. Take them all together and you now have big-box buildings and parking lots as far as the eye can see. Insane traffic has completely transformed this quiet section of town (not to mention the now ramshackle main drag downtown.) Air pollution from these cars, not to mention light pollution from the street lamps at night, obscures the sky by day and stars by night. Sadly, there is no end in sight. Now this sleepy little city is home to the largest mall in my entire state.


Anonymous said...

"I wish I had saved those birds."

This is my favorite line from all of your posts. It shows that you feel that you have to cater to all of your readers. Gotta have that environmentalist angle! Give it a break. -in a falsetto- Drama queeeeen!

Anonymous said...

^^Agreed, I would love to see you save those birds, seeing as you touching them or moving the nests would have gotten you a hefty federal fine and probably the loss of your job. So stfu about this post being against Walmart, I don't exactly support them but you can't expect them to cater to your "environmental concerns" when they legally have to have a company come in and remove them.

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