Nearly 292,000 tons of coal are burned each year to power Walmart's facilities in Illinois, producing 539,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, shows a new report examining the carbon footprint of the nation's largest retailer.
Out of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Walmart's coal consumption is the second highest in Illinois behind Texas, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's (ILSR) report titled, "Walmart's Dirty Energy Secret: How the Company's Slick Greenwashing Hides Its Massive Coal Consumption."
Walmart is one of the country's biggest users of coal-fired electricity overall, with its U.S. stores and distribution centers collectively responsible for the annual consumption of 4.2 million tons of coal, resulting in almost 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year, the report found.
"If you put all of that coal into rail cars, you'd have a train 43,000 rail cars long that stretched for over 420 miles," report co-author Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR, said on a conference call with reporters.
Nine years ago, Walmart's then-CEO Lee Scott pledged that the company would move to 100 percent renewable energy. Last year, more than 40 percent of Walmart's U.S. electricity was derived from coal-fired power plants, the report found. And Walmart currently gets just 3 percent of its U.S. electricity from its renewable energy initiative, according to information Walmart reported to the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership, Mitchell said.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, co-founder and president of 350.org, called the 3 percent figure "so laughable that it makes you want to cry."
"At that rate, the moment at which we will solve the climate crisis is never," he said. "We need to press Walmart to change in profound ways, or we need to press to make sure others that are more responsible take over their position at the head of our retail establishment."
For its part, Walmart says it made a commitment in April 2013 to bring the retailer closer to its 100 percent renewable goal, including driving "the production of procurement of 7 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable energy globally by Dec. 31, 2020," and reducing "the energy per square foot intensity required to power our buildings around the world by 20 percent versus our 2010 baseline" by the end of December 2020.
"To do this, we're leveraging numerous models of renewable energy sources--wind, solar, hydro, biogas," Tara Greco, Walmart's director of sustainability communications, said in an email to Progress Illinois. "Solar is the dominant on-site source for Walmart renewable energy in the U.S. And, in fact, last month, SEIA recognized Walmart as the business having the most installed solar capacity in the U.S. (105 MW), more than twice the next business on the list. Walmart is also recognized as the largest on-site renewable energy user in America by the EPA's Green Power Partnership."
Walmart sent along additional information, which states:
We work state-by-state in the U.S., and region-by-region around the world to make renewable energy work financially and sustainably, as part of our commitment to everyday low cost.
As of 2013, Walmart-driven renewable energy projects and purchases globally provided about 8 percent annually of our buildings' electricity needs. The grid supplied another 16 percent, for a total of 24 percent renewable electricity globally.
In the U.S., as of 2013, Walmart-driven renewable energy projects provided three percent of our building's annual electricity needs, and the grid provided another 11 percent for a total of 14 percent renewable electricity in the U.S.
At the end of 2013, Walmart had more than 335 renewable energy projects in operation or under development across our global portfolio
But Mitchell said Walmart's renewable energy projects over the last decade "have made essentially no dent in its reliance on coal-fired power."
That's because Walmart's renewable energy projects are "far too meager relative to the company's huge size" and they are mostly located in "the wrong places to make much difference" in terms of reducing its coal-fired power consumption and carbon pollution, she said.
"Walmart uses renewable power in a few places where it's cheap or where there's a public image value, like California," Mitchell said. "But in the places where it matters most, we do not see this company making any kind of investment in a cleaner future. You look at states like Missouri, Illinois -- places where there's a tremendous amount of climate pollution coming from coal-fired power plants and where you've also got the local air and the local water being poisoned. These are just some of the most pivotal environmental issues we face, and what we see is Walmart is very happy to continue consuming that cheap power, and has made no moves whatsoever to go into a different direction."
The report was released last Thursday, the same day Walmart announced it will install up to 400 new solar projects at facilities across the U.S. over the next four years.
"Walmart's announcement to install more solar is an indication that it recognizes it must do more," Mitchell responded in a statement. "We've heard similar promises from Walmart before, though, and this is quite small relative to the company's size and the progress other retailers have made in moving to clean power. The question now is whether deeper commitments from Walmart to change the most destructive aspects of its business model will follow."
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said Walmart needs to put an end to its "greenwashing."
"Walmart claims to be an environmental leader, but this report shows that in fact Walmart is an environmental laggard," he said. "Nines years after pledging to shift to 100 percent clean energy, Walmart not only has failed to come anywhere close to that goal ... but they're actually helping to support the dirty coal industry."
To back up that claim, the report noted that in the 2011-2012 election cycle, more than half of the congressional candidates that saw campaign donations from Walmart and members of the Walton family voted with fossil fuel interests 100 percent of the time.
Walmart is also boosting the fossil fuel industry, Brune added, by choosing to purchase coal-fired power instead of clean energy "in all but a small number of states where coal already is a very tiny part of the energy mix."
"Because Walmart is so large, and because Walmart has so much influence, they have the clout to make massive changes in policy that would make clean energy a much bigger part of our country's energy mix," Brune said. "It's time for Walmart to own its role as a leader and become the responsible, mature company that it purports to be. Walmart must stop focusing on becoming a bigger company and instead become a better one."
Greco, of Walmart, said the company is "actively working to grow use of renewable energy in states and regions that welcome these alternatives."
"And, along with Bloomberg, Facebook, HP, REI and others, Walmart recently signed on to the WWF's Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles, with the goal to increase availability of cost-competitive renewable energy," she added.