Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Green is the new black

Via Redneck Mother, I find a fascinating little nugget: Wal-Mart, not an entity ordinarily associated with environmental or social progress, has instituted a push to get compact flourescent bulbs to 100 million homes (by selling them, of course, at Wal-Mart.)

“The environment,” [Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee] Scott said, “is begging for the Wal-Mart business model.”

Ahem. Not exactly. The truth is closer to my long-held suspicion about the new business paradigm of the 21st century: That the Wal-Mart business model (and others) is begging for the environment.

My dirty little secret is that I know more than a little about Wal-Mart's business and marketing tactics, as someone very close to me has endured the horrors of working for a Wal-Mart vendor. Survival in the hostile environment of marketing generally requires that one constantly be tiptoeing along one cutting edge or another. One of those edges is green, and is only going to get greener with every passing day. It may not be greening as quickly as we like, or, arguably, as quickly as we need, but it's greening all the same.

I was reading a blog the other day, and happened upon one of those concise knots of truth you sometimes find in an otherwise unremarkable comment section. (I'm sorry to say I can't remember at which blog I found it.) The commenter was addressing the recent discovery that the ginormous, 41-square mile Ayles ice-shelf had unceremoniously plopped into the ocean on the morning of August 13, 2005 (my eleventh wedding anniversary, incidentally.) Said ice shelf, come the spring thaw, will likely be menacing the shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean, which involves, for fans of irony, significant petroleum traffic.

The really serious push against global warming, observed the astute commenter, would not arrive until Big Money starts to feel the heat. Wal-Mart's new love affair with the compact flourescent light bulb illustrates the related principle that significant progress will also not be achieved until our corporatocracy realizes there is Big Money to made from an environmental business paradigm.* Wal-Mart has ingeniously discovered a niche that matches its business model.

I'm deeply alarmed by our increasingly plutocratic form of governance in this country and the concomitant influence of corporations over every aspect of our lives. But I'm not unsympathetic to Paul Hawken's view that business is uniquely positioned to effect the societal transformation required to address the climate and other environmental crises. I suspect this would be even more true in a world in which corporations were not mollycoddled with government handouts of every stripe, and protected from the true cost of their practices.

But it's hard not to perk up at this latest development, especially because it's happened in such an inhospitable environment, and is fueled by increasing awareness among the general public. After all, if Wal-Mart didn't think it could sell those bulbs, it wouldn't be expending the resources to try.

*Caveat: I'm not foolish enough to think that Big Money won't continue degrading the environment with one hand while it pursues this new niche with another.


JLB said...

No caveat required - I know you ain't no fool TH!

Trailhead said...

You're perhaps more certain than I am. :)