Monday, April 14, 2008

Growing Confliction

"When the executives at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. realized there was green to be made from green initiatives, their efforts took off: The company expects to reduce solid waste 25% in three years at almost 4,000 U.S. stores." -

I'm a capitalist with a conscience, and maybe a bit of a soft spot for the underdog, regardless of what my NCAA tourney bracket looked like this year. I cheer for the Red Sox because they don't have as high a pay roll as the Yankees, even though I acknowledge the Sox' pay roll is still the second highest in the majors. And I don't like Wal-mart. I don't shop there. But I don't blame people who do. In fact, I feel fortunate to be able to afford to shop elsewhere, even if that is the local King Soopers grocery store, which is of course only one chain under the enormous Kroger brand.

But with King Soopers, I'm able to buy products that are locally grown, such as Rocky Mountain Pastures organic milk and Mountain High Natural Yogurt. My local grocery store - although not really local - provides me with local products, which means that while I am paying a premium price for these goods, I know that they're only being shipped from other parts of my state, instead of other parts of the country, or in some cases other countries all together. It's the entirety of the the green idea - from field to supermarket shelf - and it encompasses all aspects of production, shipping, and consumption. While Kroger may not be making the effort to truly support more sustainable practices, I can with my spent dollar.

Wal-mart's sustainability webpage says: "We view environmental sustainability as one of the most important opportunities for both the future of our business, and the future of our world. [Note here that the "future of our business" comes before "the future of our world."]

Our opportunity is to become a better company by looking at every facet of our business—from the products we offer to the energy we use—through the lens of sustainability."

This is all well and good, but I can't escape the reality of the quote I've used to open this post. Their green is all about their green.

In the end, I want to spend my money where I believe business and true concern for the environment cross. I guess I'm looking for the best of both worlds. Sure, King Soopers isn't the perfect answer - and neither is Whole Foods. But I think that by at least offering consumers the option to buy locally (even at a premium price), they're taking a step in the right direction.

Just because McDonald's now offers higher quality beef than it did 4 years ago doesn't mean I'm going to start buying their burgers. It's simple economics, and it's the same story for Wal-Mart. I eat at the Cherry Cricket, where the burger is more expensive, the managers aren't brought in from another state, and the the beef is from closer to home.*

I have a number of issues with Wal-Mart that I must admit are not exclusive to that company. However, they are again #1 on the Fortune 500 list, and they must set an example for those who follow. I support their green initiatives and welcome their reduction in consumption and pollution the same way I'd welcome equal changes from McDonald's. But that's not enough to get me to shop there.

*I haven't checked this fact. To be honest, I made it up. But I'd be more willing to bet their beef is local than that of McDonald's.


Dave D. said...

I guess they figured they can't pay their workforce any less so they have to cut costs (read: waste) somewhere else. Wasn't Walmart supposed to have laid out some master plan to be more environmentally conscious like 2 years ago. Obviously they've been very aggressive in their pursuit of that goal. I also love the new Mcdonalds ads as well. All those fresh ingredients that I know are handpicked by the local manager everyday. I think i'll go down and get a big juicy burger that probably came from a downer cow. Yummy!

brett said...

The main thing with Wal-Mart is that Walmart IS China. And China's anti-fraydom, because it's a communist country, and fraydom and communism are diametrically opposed concepts...
I guess it comes down to the fact that the zeitgeist is at a place where buying 'organic' and 'local' is 'cool' and 'tells other people you're a good person.' Which means that there are a lot of people buying organic and local for shallow, 'wrong reasons,' or just because the packaging is pretty.

But that's the nature of humanity and it's good that buying local and organic has become socially acceptable/expected in some sub-cultures or communities.

In a capitalistic country, this is how change happens - you make the right thing to do the profitable thing to do. Corporations aren't people, they're profit-making machines (and some of their CEO's aren't people either). The aim of the corporation is to make profit - aligning that aim with environmental and social aims is the true task of any progressive or reformer in a capitalistic country.

The government can do this with taxes and subsidies...the people can do this with the force of social pressure.

The thing to watch out for is when companies play to that zeitgeist in appearances but not in reality...

Is there a farmer's market in Denver? I feel like the farmer's market is probably the best place to buy food if you want to do it locally but without the Starbucks-esque hoity-toity-liberal-incensey-environment-great-graphic-design-
price-raising-practices of a Whole Foods (an Austin based company, btw).

That being said, I myself am a hypocrite: I shop generic brand, not 'local' (though HEB generic brands in Texas seem to be pretty 'good') because it's cheaper. But I've done no research into the practices of the HEB generic brand.

I also buy a 35-pack of bottled water a month for about 5 dollars...which is me spending 5 more dollars than I need to on water for the sake of convenience... I like the sucky feeling and it's easy to drink in bed and take with me to work and I don't have to go to the sink to fill up on agua. But it's obviously worse for the environment - I probably actually recycle the bottles only 50% of the time, and there's all the extra shipping and manufacturing ookiness.

I do know that I get all of my vitamin C from Texas, again a matter of cost - when you can buy 18 pounds of grapefruit (equivalent to 25-30 big, juicy grapefruits) for FIVE DOLLARS, the fact that it's grown in Texas is just a nice little benefit.

Part of the problem is that our culinary tastes have become so varied and we have such a sense of entitlement...we should be able to get anything we want at any time. I mean, really, should somebody in the mountains of Montana be eating a Mango? Why can New Yorkers have magical mystical acai berries in their smoothies? Why are people in Texas allowed to eat salmon? How does this make any sense? Texans should eat catfish and grapefruit and NOTHING ELSE!!! ("Catfish and Grapefruit"... that's a good title for something...)

But I suppose the least we can do is buy stuff locally that's actually grown or raised locally.

Smile if you're tired and pleasantly hungover on a couch in New York...


(The pope's in town. I would like to go see him (I've seen a pope in person before...just never a living one), but there ain't no tickets left for the mass at Yankee Stadium. He recently made hurting the environment an official Catholic sin. Go Papa Ratzi!!!)

Bryce said...

At a grocery store here in Great Neck, they double bag EVERYTHING. Whether its ten cans of soup or a pack of gum and a stamp, everything gets two bags. I've come back with five bags for $20 of groceries. I look like I'm some freak when I tell them I don't need a bag (I can almost hear them thinking "I'll bet he doesn't drink bottled water, either").

brett said...

relevant link:

(and does everyone know about It takes really, really long website addresses and renames them with a 'tiny' address...something that's much easier to handle in cut-and-paste operations and when posting on comment boxes, since it doesn't cause that annoying wrap-around that sometimes makes web addresses pointless).