One time in my life, years ago, I went inside a WalMart store and purchased one item. It was a full-length mirror for $10. I felt grateful I could afford it because I was a self-employed artist at the time (read: poor).
I never went back to WalMart because I learned about the high cost of their low prices. For instance, many who receive relief food from the Oregon Food Bank have full-time jobs. At WalMart. Such stories are well-told in many places, and my thoughts today are actually about a more positive face of WalMart: their progress in sustainability.
(Think of sustainability as doing things in a way that can continue indefinitely across time without resources collapsing or other bad things happening.)
I’ve learned WalMart is using their famed control over their suppliers to require more sustainable practices of them. Here in Portland, my home, that is translating into huge warehouses being built to LEED certification (that’s Leadership in Energy & Ecological Design), including extensive solar panels.
That means these warehouses that will ship products to WalMart will use much less fossil fuels than normal warehouses — and fossil fuels, are course, are what’s driving global warming. Also, WalMart has done huge promotions of compact fluorescent light bulbs, shaping that market significantly in a much-needed way. It appears they’re putting some legs on the public commitment they made to sustainability about two years ago.
So would I personally recommend now shopping at WalMart? Well, the reason I won’t is the same reason I never darken the door of Costco: great volumes of goods at dirt-cheap prices encourage overconsumption. And overconsumption is, in my eyes, the root of our cultural problems and environmental problems — both sets of problems, intertwined in their causes and effects.
The research I’ve seen lately indicates that the happiest people are not the ones who consume the most, but the ones who are rich in loving relationships, community and service/volunteer work. If happiness is what we all want, more stuff at low prices is not getting us there.
I’m glad WalMart is becoming greener, but it doesn’t change their basic premise of unfettered consumption. Thor and I are continuing to shop elsewhere. I left my little art company behind, and have a ‘normal’ job now that I love. We can afford normal prices.
By the way, I gave away the full-length mirror I bought there to a friend. She has more stuff than friends, come to think of it, and is not the happiest person I know.