By Michael Shank

Sir, With reference to “Soft soap? Why the greening of Wal-Mart may hinder the way to a sustainable world” (September 10): it should be a soft sell for the unconverted. Preaching with no less flair than a southern Baptist preacher, Arkansas’ Wal-Mart is leading the pack towards an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient salvation. I’ve witnessed this sermon first hand. During a 2006 Net Impact conference panel titled “Sustainability at Wal-Mart: How the world’s largest retailer wants to become the greenest”, which I moderated, Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s vice-president for product and packaging innovation pledged priority to the three pillars of sustainability: financial, environmental and social.

Would the preacher walk the talk? It appears so.

Unsurprisingly, and to Bentonville’s credit, with every new green initiative – from packaging retrofits to solar panels to cogeneration – Wal-Mart is covering costs quickly, within a few years on most installations. The financial reward for a green job well done is providing new and much-needed revenue streams for the company. Good news for the market, which will no doubt follow suit, and for the planet as well. Wal-Mart is serious about going green, though it makes no bones about the real underlying green factor, which is a dollar earned.

Now we simply need to help the company with the sole remaining pillar: social sustainability.

Michael Shank,
Government Relations Adviser,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,
George Mason University,
Arlington, VA 22201, US
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007