Critics Blast Wal-Mart for Lobbying Against Carbon-Offset Guidelines

Despite its own green efforts, the company thinks the FTC should not define carbon offsets.

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Wal-Mart is one of the largest consumers of electricity in the United States and presides over one of the largest truck fleets in the world. And for these reasons, even the little steps the company takes to go greener—such as selling sustainable products or local produce—make a big difference, and the company has been commended for them.

Despite this, critics from Wal-Mart Watch, a group that tracks the company's growth and influence, report that the company is lobbying against defining and standardizing carbon offsets for proposed cap-and-trade programs—a move some deem hypocritical in light of the company's public campaign to cut its footprint. In a document filed to the Federal Trade Commission, Wal-Mart says:

Although some may urge otherwise, the Commission should resist the temptation to define what constitutes an eligible offset or REC [Renewable Energy Certificates]. Doing so would require the Commission to resolve highly technical environmental debates that are beyond its expertise.

Rather than attempting to define offsets or RECs, the Commission should rely on the flexibility inherent in the "reasonable basis doctrine." The fact that standards may differ from one seller to another simply reflects the fact that there is no consensus about what does, or should, constitute a carbon offset. Different authoritative and expert institutions have adopted different, but reasonable, approaches. Although the Commission should insist that all carbon offset claims are supported by a reasonable basis, FTC precedent provides no reason to choose one reasonable approach over another.

Environmental blog Grist explains the decision: "FTC's definition of carbon offsets could most affect the retailer's ultra-ambitious goal to someday run on 100 percent renewable energy—a huge amount of which would likely have to come from offsets or renewable-energy certificates."

When blogger Eoin O'Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor asked the company outright why they didn't support a strong definition, they replied in a statement, "Wal-Mart believes that a well-designed cap-and-trade system will foster competition, innovation, and business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions." Their statement also included these three goals to reduce their footprint:

1. Make our truck fleet 25% more efficient by 2008; and 100% more efficient by 2015
2. Reduce GHG from 2005 and earlier existing stores, clubs and DC's by 20% by 2012
3. Open a viable store prototype that is up to 25-30% more energy efficient by 2009

So, what do you think? Is Wal-Mart being hypocritical, or are its green efforts in good faith?