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July 27, 2006


The Inspired Protagonist

The Jolly Green Giant

On July 26th Fortune Magazine released a cover story on Wal-Mart under the banner “Wal-Mart Saves the Planet, well not quite…”

Something is going on here that I’m not quite sure we understand.

Whether you believe Wal-Mart is the devil incarnate or are a cheerleader for what they are doing – the truth lies somewhere else.

Call me crazy – but I believe this is a bigger, more significant, pattern changing event. We can’t understand it by looking back – we need to understand it as a new possibility that is rushing toward us. The future in the making.

Think, the end of the cold war, the Berlin wall coming down, our first trip to the moon.

That is not to say it’s all good – but here are 7 things to ponder.

1. First read Mark Gunther’s article http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune - while he took my quote out of context, it’s still a great story!
2. I believe that no organization on the planet has more power or potential to very quickly effect positive social and environmental change – what you’ve seen is just a taste of what is to come. More fuel efficient trucks is easy low hanging fruit, when Wal-Mart starts telling P&G to reformulate and redesign their products – we’re in uncharted territory.
3. Organic food from China – good or bad?
a. First, who am I to tell a low income family with both parents working two jobs, that total almost 150 hours a week living in West Texas that they shouldn’t have access to cheap organic food. It’s the only way they can afford it. The fact that they can’t afford to shop in Whole Foods isn’t their fault.
b. Second, it makes no sense to grow organic lettuce in China for consumption in the US, how do you battle global warming if your developing new unsustainable distribution systems. We must grow and distribute food locally. Is this Wal-Mart’s responsibility – yes – but not alone.
4. With out full cost accounting, where consumers and business take full responsibility for externalities we are all incentivized to behave in way’s that are truly unsustainable. We need the corporate and political will to change this – Wal-Mart could be a leader here – but it isn’t yet! (For example; if traditional agriculture had to pay the cost of dumping pesticides into the environment, polluting ground water and paying the health care costs of exposing workers to toxic chemicals – then organic food would cost about half the price of traditionally grown food! Add the cost o the war in Iraq to the price of gasoline and it would already be over $4.00 a gallon.)
5. Is Wal-Mart Serious? YES absolutely, I’ve looked Lee Scott in the eyes – he’s a believer. This is not about green washing. The traditional Wal-Mart business model is broken, The stock is in the toilet. This is a smart strategic move with a sound business case. How far they go remains to me seen.
6. What about the social issues? This is the elephant in the closet. They don’t know how to deal with health care, raise wages to livable levels, or how to grow with out killing local downtown communities. But they’re working on it. The question is how much the Board of the company will really invest today, reduce short term earnings for solutions and a payback that may be several years away.
7. What should we (you and I do)? Well I’m still not ready to sell to or shop at Wal-Mart – but I can imagine for the first time in my life that that day might come. Now, we need to applaud the good work they are doing and continue to ask the tough questions (a few of which include☺
a. When will we see real corporate transparency in the form of a GRI corporate responsibility report?
b. When will Lee Scott sit down with Andy Stern (head of the labor union) to have an honest open conversation?
c. What are they doing, and willing to do, by when to, provide health care insurance to all employees?
d. What percentage of organic purchases is Wal-Mart willing to commit to purchasing locally?

Lamar Cole

Life doesn't get any better than a cold Coca Cola and a trip to Wal-Mart Heaven.

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