The retail giant Walmart has received a lot of criticism over the years for practices that don’t always seem … enlightened (or, as some may say, “woke”).
Its low, low prices have hurt many small businesses in towns across America, unable to compete with its purchasing power. Its low wages have placed its employees in the ranks of the highest recipients of food stamps and Medicaid. It’s had to settle multi-million-dollar lawsuits alleging it forces workers to work off the clock.
But in one category, it seems to be doing the right thing — the environmentally responsible, forward-looking, stewardly thing: On a corporate level, Walmart has made significant efforts to transition to clean energy. Walmart plans to run its stores on at least 50% clean energy sources by 2025 and to reach zero emissions by 2040. Along the way, it plans to restore at least 50 million acres of land and 1 million square miles of ocean by 2030. This isn’t the kind of environmental care we’ve come to expect from heartless megacorps.
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What happened? Were the Walton heirs visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future?
What’s more likely is that the American company realized that clean energy is also, increasingly, cheap energy — and protecting the environment is good for business.
One aspect of its efforts is that it recently joined environmental and climate advocates in opposition to Duke Energy’s proposed carbon plan, currently under review by the N.C. Utilities Commission, The Winston-Salem Journal’s John Deem reported Monday. The utilities commission has until the end of the month to approve a plan.
Duke Energy, which is still cleaning the coal ash spill from its Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County that contaminated groundwater on plant property and an adjoining tract (but no drinking or recreational water, Duke says), has proposed adding new natural gas facilities with 2,000 megawatts of capacity as it transitions from coal and toward cleaner alternatives like solar and wind energy.
That would certainly be an improvement — its coal-fired station at Belews Creek is currently North Carolina’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — adding nearly 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere last year.
But according to Walmart’s lawyers, Duke’s plan is not rigorous enough; rather than using natural gas as a bridge, they say, it should leap to wind and solar — which are increasingly available and affordable sources of energy in North Carolina. While burning natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal, the emissions are still significant and still contribute to climate change.
Several other corporations, including tech giants Apple, Google and Meta (formerly Facebook), have joined Walmart’s effort.
Why do they care? Because buying electricity produced by natural gas from Duke Energy — which has a monopoly on energy in North Carolina — would hinder them from reaching their own clean-energy goals.
Funny how it’s all intertwined, isn’t it?
Walmart, et al., have submitted alternative plans that rely more on clean-energy sources. If they’re viable, the Utilities Commission should require them.
The state has its own goals. Last year, the N.C. legislature set carbon dioxide-reduction targets of 70% from 2005 levels by 2035; it plans to reach carbon-neutral status by the middle of the century.
Every little bit helps.
Its environmental advocacy doesn’t mean that Walmart should be let off the hook for other abuses. Given that it generates billions of dollars in profits every year — its gross profit for the 12 months ending in October was $146.292 billion — it could afford to pay its workers a higher wage. That would relieve the burden on taxpayers a bit.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. On this front, Walmart is fighting the good fight and more should follow its example.