Recent articles about Home Depot and Wal-Mart have detailed the efforts these chains are making to bring green products to their stores as well as what they themselves are doing to decrease their impact on the environment. When the two biggest retail chains in the country want something, people listen.
Home Depot's initiatives are centered mostly on re-branding some of its current product offerings under its Eco Options program. Over 60,000 products claimed some sort of green quality, but Home Depot prudently narrowed the list down to 2,500. While that may still be a large number, it seems the company has a fairly rigorous process for determining whether a product should be included in the program. The problem is there are no standards for judging the environmental impact of items like spark plugs or rugs.
Who should determine these standards? The government? An independent agency? The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are responsible for the Energy Star energy efficiency labeling. Standards on other products vary by state. It's a huge undertaking to figure out what exactly makes a product green, but it's necessary so we don’t get the kind of exaggerated claims Home Depot experienced at first.
As much as I dislike Wal-Mart, they are doing some pretty remarkable things as part of their sustainability initiatives. The 7,000 U.S. Wal-Mart stores are doing everything from switching to more energy efficient light bulbs to reducing the amount of packaging on certain products to create less waste. The chain's manufacturers and suppliers will also be held to stricter standards if they want their products to continue to be stocked on Wal-Mart's shelves. I have to say, I'm slightly impressed. (Then again, perhaps Wal-Mart's plans are not quite what they're cracked up to be. Apparently, they've had to postpone the publication of their first sustainability report because independent reviewers rejected it.)
Of course, Wal-Mart also will save a great deal of money by carrying out these plans. I hear this constantly when reading about green issues. If being green is so cost-effective, why doesn't everyone do it? And why has it taken so long for people to start doing it? These are semi-rhetorical questions. I also realize there are often large upfront costs to most environmentally friendly projects. But still. Isn't business all about the bottom line?
In completely unrelated news, here are two sites I discovered that I think are worth checking out:
PriceGrabber.com has created a ShopGreen site, which exclusively sells environmentally friendly products. They have everything from energy-efficient laptops to organic pet food.
This week the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an organization comprised of environmental officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, unveiled a Google Earth mapping tool to track where pollutants are being dumped in their respective countries. After downloading the tool, just type in your city or zip code to zoom in and find reports on companies in your area.