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If You Build It, We Will Come

In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s cornfield whispers, “If you build it, he will come,” and sets off a series of events that change the lives of Costner and those around him. While talking corn is movie magic, the idea of expressing a desire in order to see it fulfilled is a powerful one. And if the expressed desire comes from a Fortune 500 company, it can help change the world.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s cornfield
whispers, “If you build it, he will come,” and sets off a series of events that
change the lives of Costner and the characters around him. While talking corn is a bit of movie magic,
the idea of expressing a desire in order to see it fulfilled is a powerful
one. And if the expressed desire comes
from a Fortune 500 company, it can help change the world.

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Consider this: Ten years ago, FedEx
Express, in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund
, let it be known
that it wanted a cleaner truck–one that went 50% further on a gallon of fuel
and that cut soot emissions by 90%. The
company didn’t offer subsidies, nor did it specify how the truck should be
built. But in essence it said, “If you
build it, we will come.” And with one of
the largest truck fleets in the US–that
got the attention of truck makers across the country.

There are now dozens of models of trucks that use the
technology developed through the FedEx/EDF partnership, and about a quarter of
the delivery and utility truck fleets in the U.S. are using them. The trucks, by the way, use hybrid technology
similar to that found in the Toyota Prius and other cars. But while hybrid systems were known in the
passenger car sector, no one had applied the technology to heavy trucks until
FedEx’s purchasing power came into play.

Now, Walmart is using the
same technique to pull next-generation solar power
into the marketplace. Thin-film solar cells are being developed
that can reduce the weight of solar systems, making them more flexible and
easier to install on a broad range of buildings.

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Working with Environmental
Defense Fund, Walmart
solicited proposals for innovative thin-film solar projects, hoping to
break through the barriers keeping this new technology from becoming fully
viable in the marketplace. Again, they said, “if you build it, we
will come.”

Walmart has announced that
it will install thin film technology on up to 30 stores, clubs and other
locations in California and Arizona. Said Kim Saylors-Laster,
Walmart vice president of energy, “By leveraging our scale to become a more
efficient company we are able to lower expenses and help develop markets for
new technologies.”

The combination of Walmart’s market power and Environmental Defense Fund‘s rigor could provide the
scale and credibility needed to bring new solar technology more fully into the
marketplace, using the power of an expressed desire to move thin film
technologies from the drawing board to the rooftops of America.

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About the author

Gwen Ruta directs Environmental Defense Fund's Corporate Partnerships program. She spearheads its work with leading multinational companies to develop innovative, business-based solutions to environmental challenges and to drive change through the corporate value chain. Ranked #1 among environmental organizations for credible and effective partnerships by the Financial Times, Gwen’s group has kicked off transformations in market sectors from catalogs to shipping to retail to food service. Partner companies have included Wal-Mart; Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts; UPS; FedEx; DuPont; McDonalds; and Citigroup.

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