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Savior or Sellout?

Some of Adam Werbach's old friends in the environmental movement may not be talking to him since he signed on with Wal-Mart, but Fast Company readers had plenty to say about September's cover story. Responses ranged from "Wow, this is such a smart move" to "Wal-Mart is not your friend." We heard from regular Wal-Mart shoppers and Wal-Mart boycotters. A sampling follows, along with readers' comments on other articles in the September issue and an update on fastcompany.com's Fast Cities poll.

I haven't shopped at a Wal-Mart in more than 10 years because of the environmental and business practices that it employs. If Werbach can actually assist in and promote change, then Wal-Mart can have a very dramatic effect on our environment in the future. I applaud his forward thinking. I also think he is very audacious to take on such a large corporation that could make a monumental impact on absolutely everything—the environment, business, economy, consumers. The potential impact is limitless.

Jessica Smith
Hartford, Connecticut

Werbach's approach may actually make "think green" become more of a mainstream habit, comparable to Al Gore's latest media success. Adam is bringing "radical green" closer to the base by making it more approachable and realistic. It's green for the people and not green for the environmentalists. That's how you get things done on a great scale. More power to you, Adam!

Miguel Oliveira
Los Angeles, California

I admire Werbach's courage to take risks for his cause. However, it is impossible to believe that Wal-Mart has any motive to embrace sustainability other than money. Energy-efficient stores cost less to operate. Asking employees to create their own sustainability programs is really a way to improve employee retention and health, and thus reduce costs associated with training, health care, and absenteeism. And perhaps hold off unionization efforts for a bit longer. Reduced packaging? Relates to less shelf space per product and probably lower transportation costs. Remember when Wal-Mart waved the "Made in the U.S.A." marketing banner? Now it waves the sustainability banner for the same reasons: more sales and reduced costs.

Richard Spingler
Florence, Kentucky

I think it takes enormous courage to give up the biggest-yapping-dog-in-the-pen glory and actually come out and try to fix things in a totally unexpected way that could potentially change the world. People who remain in permanent opposition can become quite tiresome and ineffective…. It would be neat to see what would happen if more people were invited to join those that they oppose and asked to come in and help. I hope Werbach will succeed!

Tuija Seipell
Vancouver, British Columbia

Hear This!

When Grameen Telecom launched Village Phone a decade ago ("Unplanned Obsolescence," September), experts said it would reach saturation after five years and 50,000 operators. The fact that it is still going after 10 years and more than 290,000 operators is a testament to the capacity of poor women and men to operate technology-based microfranchises. And while the telecommunications market in Bangladesh has clearly changed in the past decade, we believe the fundamental business model and the need it serves are still far from obsolete. Around the world, there are still 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day, who cannot afford to purchase their own personal phones; for them, affordable, accessible telephone services are vital. Grameen Foundation's experience in replicating this model in Uganda and Rwanda (Grameen Telecom and GrameenPhone focus solely on Bangladesh) has demonstrated the wide applicability of the fundamentals of the Village Phone model and how it can be a sustainable business and operational model. All products have life cycles, and the recent decline in Village Phone—operator incomes from providing public-access telecommunications services was not unexpected. However, this does not discount the significant achievements of Grameen Telecom's work over the past decade, nor the potential of its application in other countries.

David Keogh
Manager, Village Technology

If GrameenPhone had not teamed with Grameen Bank to distribute phones to villages and agreed to sell minutes in bulk at a huge discount to phone ladies, it never would have built out a national network. Which means Bangladesh today might have a largely urban-centric phone system, rather than the countrywide system it enjoys.

The Western media have built Nobel laureates Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus into icons, and in typical fashion now look to knock them off their lofty perch. There is no doubt some reason to do so, although it is a mistake to treat GrameenPhone and Grameen Bank as the same entity when they have radically different agendas.

Nicholas P. Sullivan
South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

A Corporate Education

Elizabeth Svoboda's excellent and well-researched article ("Microsoft's Class Action," September) raises the right question: Is corporate partnership a vested interest or altruism? Interdisciplinary and thematic programs address this because they greatly improve learning while they lower potentially narrow corporate self-interest. Svoboda also comes to the right conclusion: Something has to give in American education before it can be improved.

Jim Evers
Nanuet, New York

While my company, Arment Dietrich, would love the clout of Microsoft, AT&T, and Citigroup, we're a long way from that level. But what your article made me realize is that we can help in Chicago and in Milwaukee (cited as one of the poor inner cities in your article) by creating programs that teach high school and college students the communications and people skills they need in business. Because of your article, we are creating a task force to look at one or two schools to get involved with and help mold the curriculum. We need the human capital as much as the big companies, and we're going to get involved.

Gini Dietrich Chicago, Illinois

Whatever, Life Is Good :)

Your profile on Ashley Qualls and her company, Whateverlife, in the September issue of Fast Company ("Girl Power") was superb! In a world where young girls often assess their value in terms of physical beauty and their power in their level of sexual desirability, Qualls models curiosity, perseverance, and healthy risk taking as ways of gaining power and confidence in her life. She is a terrific role model for other young girls, inspiring them to take responsibility for their own lives and to be fearless, and demonstrating that standing out is a good thing.

Elizabeth M. Johnson
Lakeville, Connecticut

Editor's note:
Since our article ran, Ashley Qualls has turned down a $2.5 million offer for her company.

Fast Favorites

We asked readers to vote online for Fast Cities (July/August) and rate them from 1 to 5, with 5 being Fastest. Voting is still open, so if you disagree with the results below, based on the first two months of voting, click here and cast your vote.

Here are online voters' picks of Fast Company's Fast Cities:

City Rating
1 Curitiba, Brazil 4.8
2 Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina 4.6
3 Madison, Wisconsin 4.6
4 Austin, Texas 4.4
5 Buenos Aires, Argentina 4.3
6 New York, New York 4.3
7 Boise, Idaho 4.3
8 Tucson, Arizona 4.3
9 Dubai, United Arab Emirates 4.2
10 Fort Collins, Colorado 4.2

Of the cities not mentioned in the magazine, two U.S. cities—Washington, DC, and Columbus, Ohio—barely missed the 4.0 mark, while five cities overseas made it: Perth (4.5) and Melbourne (4.2) in Australia; Victoria, British Columbia (4.2); Singapore (4.0); and Hong Kong (top of the charts at 5.0).

In India, Bangalore was rated 3.7, almost as fast as official Fast City Chandigarh (3.9).

Finally, of the 21 cities we identified as being on the verge, only two had substantial support from Web voters: Philadelphia and Atlanta. St. Louis, which we named a slow city, squeezed past the midpoint on our scale, with a rating of 3.2.

Fast Fix

In "Sky Fighter" (September), we incorrectly identified the Ascent building as being located in Cincinnati; it is actually in Covington, Kentucky.

Join Our Online Panel Voice your opinion and hear from other business leaders by joining the Fast Company Connection at fastcompanyconnection.com

Correction:David Keogh’s title should read:
David Keogh,
Director, Village Technology, Grameen Foundation.

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