Wal-Mart Evaluates Environmental Efforts

by | Nov 13, 2006

Wal-Mart has reviewed early results of various environmental projects at its experimental stores located in McKinney, Texas, and Aurora, Colorado after one year of operation and is applying some projects to other Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs.

“When we conceptualized these two experimental stores, we thought about our environmental opportunities which led our thoughts to our current goals: to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and environment,” said Charles Zimmerman, vice president of prototype and new format development. “We see these stores as moving in the right direction for a more sustainable future for Wal-Mart. We will continue to lead the way in developing sustainable building and business practices.”

Critics have lambasted Wal-Mart for its wage and benefit policies recently, leaving some to wonder at the reasons behind its environmental efforts, The LA Times reports.

But Wal-Mart says that’s not why it’s going green. Above all, the retailer says, its earth-friendly initiatives will save the company and its customers money, which goes to the heart of the Wal-Mart business model.

Sustainablog points to a couple of new Walmart-related environmental sites. Wal-Mart has launched a site to record its efforts. Wal-Mart Watch has a site too.

The stores are being evaluated over a three-year period by two government- sponsored laboratories. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will provide monitoring services for the Aurora, Colorado, store and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory will monitor the McKinney, Texas, store.

Already, some of the experimental technologies are proving to be successful, Wal-Mart reports. LED lights installed in exterior signs and grocery-, freezer-, and jewelry-cases use less electricity, contribute less heat and have a longer lifespan. Wal-Mart has been using LED lights for all building-mounted exterior lit signs for the last two years and now after 16 months of testing in the experimental stores, Wal-Mart has decided to integrate these lights into freezer cases in new Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores nationwide.

Other energy efficient lighting opportunities continue to be monitored at the experimental stores.

A portion of the heating for the experimental stores uses recovered cooking and motor oil-burned via a waste oil boiler-to heat water used in a variety of systems throughout the building. Heat recovered from the refrigeration racks also heats water used in the system. One of the systems utilizing waste heat is radiant floor heating in select areas of the building. This system helps keep associates and customers warm even in the freezer section.

Water conservation and waste reduction are also occurring at the experimental stores. Wal-Mart is very pleased with the results of the xeriscape that integrates native, drought-tolerant plants and drip irrigation for the landscaping. These landscaping changes are visually pleasing and have significantly reduced the amount of water needed for irrigation.

Fly-ash, a by-product from coal-generated electricity, and slag, a by- product of steel manufacturing, have been mixed with traditional concrete, either individually or combined to reduce the amount of raw materials needed for the construction of the facility. These concretes are holding up well at the experimental stores. They have been approved for exterior and building uses. In addition, waste building materials were recycled during the construction of these two stores, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.

One sustainable objective that still needs additional time and evaluation is renewable power generation, such as wind turbines. Mechanical problems have interfered with consistent and continuous power generation from the wind turbines this year. Wal-Mart hopes to experience improvement in this area soon and will continue with the plan to provide these and eventually other stores with renewable power.

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