Page 99 of Force of Nature marks a turning point in Wal-Mart’s journey to the sustainable side -- one that easily could have been a turning-back point. Instead of backpedalling, however, the mega-retailer’s CEO publicly committed to an unprecedented effort to green its massive global business.Learn more about the book and author at Edward Humes's website.
I know, I know. Wal-Mart? Green? Seriously?
Skepticism is justified. I had to see the hard data before I could accept that Wal-Mart, our national monument to consumption, really had committed, however imperfectly, to being more planet-friendly. Force of Nature is about how that happened, why it matters, and how many other businesses are being persuaded to do the same -- the beginning, perhaps, of a second industrial revolution.
The story begins when Jib Ellison, a tree-hugging river guide-turned business consultant who lives off the grid north of San Francisco, landed the CEO of Wal-Mart as his first sustainability client. Wal-Mart’s chief at the time, H. Lee Scott, had tired of all the criticisms aimed at his compan. He asked Ellison, in effect, to get the environmentalists off his back.
But Ellison had more than image repair in mind. He saw Wal-Mart as a giant laboratory for proving the business case for sustainability. He wanted to show Scott that doing environmental good was neither charity nor burden, but an enormous business opportunity.
Page 99 reveals what happened next. During Ellison’s first year at Wal-Mart, Hurricane Katrina struck. Wal-Mart delivered free food, water and medicine to disaster victims, and the company’s reputation soared. A main reason for hiring Ellison vanished. Sustainability could safely be dropped.
Lee, however, had come to agree with Ellison. In one early effort, they shaved a few inches off a toy truck package and saved 4,000 trees. But something else happened: Smaller packages required 497 fewer shipping containers to pack and a million fewer barrels of oil to ship. Wal-Mart saved $2.4 million. It would take selling $60 million in toys to earn that same amount. Asked Scott: If one greener product could accomplish that, what could greening them all do?
On page 99, Lee publicly explains how he wanted Wal-Mart to be like the company that responded to Katrina all the time. As far as he was concerned, Earth’s environment had become a “Katrina in slow motion.” He vowed to pursue sustainability as the cure... and to make money doing it, profit and planet joined instead of conflicting.
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