Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Friendlier Walmart?

Yesterday, Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. addressed his company, and the press, touting many incremental changes that Wal-Mart will be pushing for their employees and their customers benefit.

Wal-Mart has the negative reputation as being the "Big Box Giant" who cares nothing about the environment, foreign labor practices, or their employees health coverage (I heard a while ago that 80% of Wal-Mart employees are "part-time" which exempts them from being able to purchase the group health insurance) But the mega-retailer seems to be recognizing the problems, and instead of throwing their weight around to slow the process of change, they seem to be doing the opposite.

The company CEO was quick to identify changes they've made in the past year to encourage energy conservation (they are working on pilot solar powered stores, and thanks to a big in-store marketing push, are the leading retailer of energy saving light bulbs). He also shared that they plan to use their awesome database power to assist other companies in managing and paying their prescription drug claims, and also increase their own volume of electronic prescription filling. Electronic prescriptions have proven to be more accurate than hand-written ones, and can also be double checked against existing prescriptions to make sure there are no reactions or overdosing. They also plan to provide electronic health records to ALL U.S. employees and their family members by 2010. These are intended to give doctors a full survey of a patient's medical history, and to aid in preventing treatments that conflict with one another. (Aren't databases wonderful?!)

Another way they plan to use their corporate power is to leverage their suppliers in China to start sticking to the environmental regulations their country already has in place, but are notoriously lax in enforcing. Personally, I'm hoping this also includes fair wages to employees, and dare I imagine, health insurance?!?!

In addition to energy saving light bulbs, Wal-Mart is also encouraging their suppliers to offer more energy efficient electronics and appliances at reasonable costs for their customers.

Wal-Mart sells Organic Cotton! This Organic
Cotton Sleepshirt by Hanes costs only $8.98!

While there are energy efficient appliances available now, some believe that their higher prices have inhibited many people from buying them, and Wal-Mart says that they are now trying to change that. By holding the carrot out, Wal-Mart will probably be very effective in enticing these products to be developed.

This is very encouraging news! In order for there to be a real change in electricity consumption, we are going all have to switch to more efficient products. And how are we going to do that? We will buy them from the place we buy everything else, Wal-Mart!