“We are going there,” the buyer said. “You decide if you are coming with us.”

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 01/02/2007 - 05:01.


In a fascinating article in the NYTimes.com today, we learn “The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model”... describing "the environmental movement’s dream: America’s biggest company, legendary for its salesmanship and influence with suppliers, encouraging 200 million shoppers to save energy." That Wal-Mart, in October, announced it would pressure suppliers to stop using three chemicals, including the insecticide permethrin, used in pesticides, awoke my attention to good activism by this company that I have not historically liked, but that now Wal-Mart Stores, the giant discount retailer, is determined to push compact fluorescent lamps into at least 100 million homes is truly revolutionary.

I really became aware of how markets and mindsets are core to the use of compact fluorescent lamps when I started working in Toronto, where they are all you see. Being in a place where they are the standard, and then thinking about why, then you realize they are what you want... and so in my home here in Cleveland we swapped out all our incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lamps last year.

But, as the NYTimes article points out, in America "Wal-Mart is meeting plenty of resistance — from light-bulb makers, competitors and consumers." "A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance." "As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today."

 Now, consider this: "If it succeeds in selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year by 2008, total sales of the bulbs in the United States would increase by 50 percent, saving Americans $3 billion in electricity costs and avoiding the need to build additional power plants for the equivalent of 450,000 new homes."

"More than a year ago, Mr. Scott, the company’s chief executive, began reaching out to some of environmental groups, telling them that Wal-Mart, long regarded as an environmental offender, wanted to become a leader on issues like fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Scott viewed such a move as a way to use Wal-Mart’s influence to improve the environment, cut costs and, of course, burnish the company’s bruised image."

"Light-bulb manufacturers, who sell millions of incandescent lights at Wal-Mart, immediately expressed reservations. In a December 2005 meeting with executives from General Electric, Wal-Mart’s largest bulb supplier, “the message from G.E. was, ‘Don’t go too fast. We have all these plants that produce traditional bulbs,’ ” said one person involved with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an agreement not to speak publicly about the negotiations."

 Well, WalMart doesn't go slow, and America goes with WalMark (sick as that may be). So for all the decades of really smart environmentalism by really smart people, dumb old consumerism will make mass-Americans environmentalists. “It has taken the American public forever to grasp this,” said Charlie Jerabek, the chief executive of Sylvania.

The American public needs WalMart to teach it what to buy. I guess that's better than never learning at all. Go WalMart. I would come in to buy some bulbs from you, but I'm already covered... teach me something else.

Read the whole NYTimes article here