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Greenwashing Walmart

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Is Walmart going green? Mike Duke, the company's CEO, says in a new 126 page report that the company is becoming more sustainable and responsible while "building meaningful, long-term change." Activists disagree. Walmart's "environmental impact has only grown over the last seven years" they say in a counter-report.

Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, runs giant discount retail stores that sell consumer goods at rock bottom prices. It has grown to become the world's largest private employer with 2011 sales of $421.85 billion. The company has been a major target for union activists like United Food and Commercial Workers which started the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign and the Service Employees International Union which started Walmart Watch (The two unions have since merged and so has the campaign) It was also the subject of a critical film: "The High Cost of Low Price" produced by Robert Greenwald in 2005.

Walmart responded by hiring public relations advisers and teaming up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 2005. It was an easy solution - EDF has a history of working with big business: For example, in 1990 EDF signed a partnership with McDonald's to begin a recycling program, one of the first instances of "greenwashing" - a tactic by which companies "preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and enemies of poverty." (as defined by Kenny Bruno in the Greenpeace Book On Greenwash issued in 1992) The New York-based NGO has since signed agreements with the Carlyle Group, Citibank and FedEx.

On Monday, Walmart released a list of top ten "sustainability" achievements which included such notables as the design of a new icon "Great for You" to encourage consumers to identify "healthy food options."