With New Commitments, Walmart Shines as Renewable Energy Leader

Walmart Senior Vice President Larry Mahoney and Operations Manager Marc Sorce discuss logistics and sustainability at the 2011 Walmart Sustainability Milestone Meeting.

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) CEO Mike Duke this week announced a major update on the company's goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.

At Walmart's Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., Mr. Duke unveiled two goals the company is committed to achieving by the close of 2020.

First, on the renewable energy front, Walmart will produce or procure 7 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable energy globally every year, a 600 percent increase over 2010 levels. Second, regarding energy efficiency, Walmart will reduce the kWh/sq. ft. energy intensity required to power its buildings globally by 20 percent compared to 2010 levels.

"More than ever, we know that our goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy is the right goal and that marrying up renewables with energy efficiency is especially powerful," said Duke.

Walmart, a company which through its considerable corporate responsibility efforts has steadily revived its once-tarnished image, has already made significant strides towards achieving its ambitious energy goal.

The company's buildings are currently powered by 1.1 billion kWh of Walmart-driven renewable energy - enough to power a U.S. city of a quarter million people. When added to the renewable energy the company receives from the grid, renewable energy currently powers 21 percent of Walmart's buildings' total electricity and 17 percent its buildings' total energy use.

Walmart's rapid adoption of renewable energy across the United States has outpaced the rest of the country, which gets just around 9 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to the Institute for Energy Research. Last April, Walmart announced that six of its Colorado stores would go solar, and the company has more than 200 solar projects in operation or under development currently.

Still, Walmart is only around one-fifth of the way towards reaching its renewable energy goal, and the company will need to continue to adopt cutting-edge energy technology if it seriously expects to reach 100 percent. The company said that over the coming decade it "projects to increase LED usage in sales floor lighting, parking lots and other applications. Walmart will also focus on market-relevant scalable technologies, including high efficiency HVAC and refrigeration systems and sophisticated energy/building control systems."

Walmart de Mexico y Centroamerica will purchase all of the energy created by the Oaxaca I Lamatalaventosa Wind Farm until at least 2025. The turbines in this wind farm were manufactured in the United States and exported to Mexico to meet Walmart's demand for renewable energy.

As the world's largest retailer with operations that span the globe, Walmart's sustainability efforts have shown companies that going green and raking in the green are far from mutually exclusive.

"Walmart's new sustainability goals are not only a sign of strong leadership for the company, they can spur others around the world to take action," said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit that has consulted Walmart on its renewable energy strategy.

"Walmart's commitments show that it understands the urgency of embracing renewable energy to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, while driving business growth that is cleaner and more efficient," Steer added.

While emphasizing the environmental benefits of Walmart's renewable energy goals, Duke, the company CEO, was careful to couch the effort in business terms.

"The math adds up pretty quickly -- when we use less energy that's less energy we have to buy, and that means less waste and more savings," he said.

"When I look at the future, energy costs may grow as much as twice as fast as our anticipated store and club growth," Duke added. "Finding cleaner and more affordable energy is important to our every day low cost business model and that makes it important to our customers' pocketbooks."

Thus far, the plan seems to be working. Since 2005, when the company announced its goals to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy and to create zero waste, Walmart's share price has increased by around 70 percent.

Image credit: Sustainability Meeting and Wind Farm by Walmart Corporate, Flickr