Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wal-Mart & the Green Death Star

People often think sustainability is just about the environment.  The picture below is probably one of the best illustrations of why social sustainability is really at the heart of the matter.  It's not about "saving the planet" - it's about saving the humans, and recognizing that a healthy, vibrant, resilient biosphere is a prerequisite for a thriving human society.

We need to ensure ecological sustainability if we are to achieve social sustainability; but if we if systematically undermine our social sustainability, it doesn't really matter if we achieve ecological sustainability  (in terms of creating a sustainable human society; I'd argue it still matters given the inherent value living systems, human or not).  Running the Death Star on solar power doesn't do much to help the light side.

Renewable Power of Destruction
Photo credit: Stéfan Le Dû 
Wal-Mart is again running into this conundrum in the real world.  A class action lawsuit, Dukes v. Walmart goes to the Supreme Court today to see if the class certification stands, which would make it the largest in history - 1.6 million women claiming gender discrimination.  Regardless of the outcome, the damage has been done (for both the employees and the WMT brand).  It's another example of Wal-Mart hitting the funnel walls - like it has time and again due to its labor practices and community impacts.

Wal-Mart has great "sustainability" goals - and due to its sheer size and influence, has done an incredible amount to drive positive ecological solutions - but their sustainability goals are environmental, and don't sufficiently integrate social impacts.  A concerted effort on social sustainability by Wal-Mart - supporting fair labor practices, fair trade practices, healthy living products, and local economies - could have a huge positive impact globally, much the same way their environmental goals are.  I'm not convinced the big-box business model could ever be truly sustainable without a radical rethinking, but I certainly commend their efforts to move that direction.  I hope they continue to do so, and focus more on social sustainability.  Hopefully this class action suit will help make that happen.

Stay going.


Geoff said...

We tackled the Walmart conundrum in The Natural Step Stepping Stones newsletter last year, as well...



Emilie Oyen said...

nice post. what you doing up at 6am?