Wal-Mart plays three roles in the green industry. As the world's largest retailer, it is both a buyer and seller, a consumer and provider, of goods. Its sprawling real estate holdings make it one of the richest targets for reducing energy consumed in operations.
The sheer size of the company makes almost anything it does noteworthy. Earlier this year, it launched a plan with the Environmental Defense Fund to help its suppliers reduce packaging and their own energy consumption. Streamlining undertaken at Wal-Mart's behest, of course, will invariably lead to lower-carbon products at other stores. Roughly 30,000 factories in China will be affected.
The company will also begin to put tags on its own brand-name clothes telling consumers that they can be washed in cold water, thereby saving downstream energy. Locavores have cheered the programs the discount giant has put in place to encourage farming in close proximity to its superstores.
Inside stores, experiments with LED lights in freezer cases, solar panels, fuel cells and other technologies move relatively quickly from prototype installations to commercial practices. The little things add up. Taking the lights out of soda machines in break rooms cut $1 million from operating costs.