Walmart Knows What’s Best for Us Green Moms. Right?

October 14th, 2009

As a child, my mother used to drag me out to endless open houses. It was fun to look at the gorgeous new homes for sale and to dream. But invariably, we would laugh. She’d point to a kitchen door that was too far from a countertop, or a window that was ill placed, or a closet that was too small, and say with a loud HUMPPH, “Must have been a man that designed this house. They have no idea how we women live.”

My mother’s  words came back to me when I learned from my friend, the green blogger  Mary Hunt of In Women We Trust that  Walmart is developing its new sustainability index without ANY consumer input.    What’s more, they’re charging companies $250,000 to participate in the process of setting the standards. They’re even charging to attend webinars to learn how the index works!


Pictured: Sam’s Club Fair Trade Coffee for sale at Walmart.  Cheapest price I’ve ever seen for Fair Trade coffee!

Some of you might be thinking, “Who cares?” Most of my friends don’t shop at Walmart. In fact, most actively avoid the place. I recall a “Green Moms” dinner once where only two of us had even tread foot inside a Walmart.  But as I’ve blogged herehere, and here, I actually do shop in Walmart from time to time, and I’ve eagerly cheered them on as they’ve stocked more fair trade, USDA organic, and eco-friendly items.   After all, as Walmart goes, in large part, so goes Middle America. And this is why Walmart’s Sustainability Index is so critical to all of us.

A large selection of Clorox GreenWorks products at a Walmart -- all for $2.98 per bottle.

A large selection of Clorox GreenWorks products at a Walmart -- all for $2.98 per bottle.

By virtue of its sheer size, Walmart’s standards will become the de-facto standards for all products. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying at Walmart or your local corner store. If your favorite products are carried at Walmart – and this includes green favorites like Clorox GreenWorks, Horizon USDA Organic milk, most major organic jarred baby food brands,  and many other household brands – your product will be designed to meet Walmart’s standards. Their standard will of necessity become our standard, because the manufacturers will (rightly so) insist that they can’t meet multiple standards. They’ll choose one standard to meet, and if Walmart insists on a Sustainability Index before the US Government mandates one, well….you can guess whose standard will become the de-facto standard of the land.

Others who pooh pooh the need for consumer input might reason, “Well,  the companies know what consumers want, don’t they?”  Hmm…if all companies knew what mattered most to consumers, all companies would be fabulously successful with amazing, defect-free, safe, functional products.

So Walmart, if you decide you do want consumer input, we’re happy to give it. Just don’t charge us for the privilege, please.

And to hear what other members of the Green Moms Carnival are saying about Walmart’s Sustainability Index and its impact on consumers, please check out Mary Hunt’s blog, In Women We Trust, where she hosts this month’s Green Moms Carnival on Sustainable Standards: What’s the Consumer’s Opinion?

— Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

Update – 10/28/11  Since I wrote this post, Walmart has updated its site with links to both the Sustainability Index webinar (which you can watch for free) and a PDF of the Supplier Sustainability Index. — Lynn

14 Responses to “Walmart Knows What’s Best for Us Green Moms. Right?”

  1. Amber on October 14, 2009 2:39 pm

    Walmart’s sheer size definitely means that their actions have a huge impact, whether good or bad. I would even go farther than saying that as Walmart goes, so goes Middle America. I would say as Walmart goes, so goes most of the world. I’m Canadian, and their influence looms large here, as well.

    Let’s hope that they listen to consumers, and enact some real change.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..The Princess Pose =-.

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  3. Lynn on October 14, 2009 6:59 pm

    Amber, you are right about Walmart and their impact on the rest of the world. I’ll never forget visiting one of their first stores in China – in Shenzhen. It was an incredible sight.

  4. mother earth aka karen hanrahan on October 14, 2009 8:08 pm

    It’s amazing how business really gets taken care of isn’t it?? I am right there with your mom – they have no idea how we woman live or what we want for that matter….
    .-= mother earth aka karen hanrahan´s last blog ..Aspartame Poisoning =-.

  5. Diane MacEachern on October 15, 2009 6:32 am

    Lynn, This is a terrific call to action. Consumers have been passive bystanders for too long, which is why we have so much “catching up” to do now. We need to jump into this process of standard setting right away, and stay involved until we’re happy that the standards do the best possible job to protect our health and the health of the environment.
    .-= Diane MacEachern´s last blog ..We Need Meaningful Standards to Protect the Planet — and Us, too. =-.

  6. Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish on October 16, 2009 3:45 am

    It is important. Is wish I had confidence that they care what their customers think. Maybe they will surprise us. I have actually been in a Wal-Mart. Twice in my life. Once for antacid tablets while visiting my family (because I was visiting my family) and once for a pillow, also while visiting family. And the pillow happened to be organic in a biodegradable package. So there you go. But I have no idea where it was made or by whose labor. These are things I want them to address.
    .-= Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish´s last blog ..Hey Wal-Mart! I See Glaring Omissions in Your New Sustainability Index =-.

  7. Lynn on October 16, 2009 7:30 am

    Karen, Diane and Beth,

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I think it is important that we speak up because as Karen said, business will take care of business (that is their role, after all), but who is taking care of Mother Earth? The government clearly has let this one go. I was shocked to learn yesterday that there were NO enforcement actions for greenwashing during the Bush Administration. Clearly this will change under Obama, but there is only so much the government can do, and especially during this recessionary time, the trade-off btw. environmental protection and jobs creation is tougher than ever. That said, I applaud what Walmart is doing – they are continuing to push their suppliers to “go green” because they know it usually saves money. But what about those initiatives where going green DOES NOT save money? I’m thinking specifically of the issue of replacing known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in personal care products with safer, greener, alternatives. Right now, using organic and green ingredients are typically more expensive for the manufacturer – but in the long run, protects human health and saves our society enormous health care costs. That is where I would really love to see consumer pressure brought to bear. Let’s get rid of the formaldehyde, phthlates, BPA, and other nasty stuff we’re exposing our INFANTS, small children, expectant mothers and others to and make the investment in human health. That would really mean something to the fight against breast cancer, reproductive abnormalities and more. — Lynn

  8. Condo Blues on October 16, 2009 10:08 pm

    I wonder if Wal Mart isn’t inviting consumers to the table, as if a typical Wal Mart customer could pay such fees, because they don’t want to hear from their detractors?
    .-= Condo Blues´s last blog ..How Much Attic Insulation is Enough? =-.

  9. Katy at Non-Toxic Kids on October 19, 2009 7:20 pm

    Love that last comment, Lynn, you said it. That is right where we need to be. It may not save them money, but it will save lives, quality of lives and ultimately health care dollars–

    .-= Katy at Non-Toxic Kids´s last blog ..New Post on MightyNest: Fight Flu with Clean Well All Natural Hand Sanitizer =-.

  10. Tracey Holinka on October 20, 2009 6:31 am

    No matter how green Walmart goes I won’t shop there. Their low cost products, green or not, mean low wages for everyone along the production to sales chain.

  11. sommer @greenmom on October 25, 2009 5:22 am

    Lyne, I believe I was the other Green Mom at that dinner that had stepped foot in Walmart and it’s because I do save money there. I’m with Amber that the sheer size of Walmart will make this impact huge whether it is good or bad. I’m not confident that they really care about the consumer or the environment but rather that they care about the bottom line. Charging us is the perfect example of caring about the bottom line more than anything.

    It seems to me that they’re taking a spin off One Climate Counts, charing and just trying to set “standards” when they don’t really have a place. The word collaboration is something they should examime and if they collaborated with the consumer and other companies many the standards they’re trying to set would have more clout.
    .-= sommer @greenmom´s last blog ..No Itch, 100% Pure Outdoor Clothing =-.

  12. Lynn on October 31, 2009 9:17 pm

    Yes, Sommer, you’re right! I guess now there are at least three of us “Green Moms” who have shopped in Walmart….we have to count Jennae too! Honestly, though, I have family way out in the country where there are not too many other alternatives for shopping (and yes, I know that’s another story!). I hadn’t thought of the connection to One Climate Counts – that’s a good point. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Karen Bannan on November 9, 2009 1:17 pm

    Wal-Mart is bad for the environment. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for the organic movement. They are going to push little organic farmers out of business. As you say above, that price for free trade coffee seems really out there, right? Way too low? Well, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    Check out the blog post I wrote about why Wal-Mart’s entry into organics is actually a bad thing for all of us. Maybe you will change your mind about shopping in Wal-Mart all together.
    .-= Karen Bannan´s last blog ..Swimming in a Sea of Plastic =-.

  14. Lynn on November 15, 2009 8:20 am

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, I don’t shop at Walmart on a regular basis (I’m more of a Whole Foods shopper or My Organic Market, CSA shopper) but when I’m visiting family or friends, sometimes that’s the only option….And I am glad that they are bringing safer, healthier products to the masses.

    Like it or not, Walmart is here to stay, and I prefer to encourage them and work with them to improve everyone’s condition rather than just to ignore them…I don’t think that will do anything to move improve our collective condition. They’re a force that’s staying with us…so let’s figure out how to make them a better force…

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