Wal-Mart is so big that whatever it does affects the environment. (Yes, there is a Colorado connection here.)
On its fleet of 7,200 trucks Wal-Mart determined it could save $26 million a year in fuel costs merely by installing auxiliary power units that enable the drivers to keep their cabs warm or cool during mandatory ten-hour breaks from the road. Before that, they'd let the truck engine idle all night, wasting fuel.
Yet another example: Wal-Mart installed machines called sandwich balers in its stores to recycle and sell plastic that it used to throw away. Companywide, the balers have added $28 million to the bottom line.
"Think about it," Scott said in his big speech to employees last fall. "If we throw it away, we had to buy it first. So we pay twice - once to get it, once to have it taken away. What if we reverse that? What if our suppliers send us less, and everything they send us has value as a recycled product? No waste, and we get paid instead."
That was talk any Wal-Mart executive could understand, even if few knew it came straight from the pages of Natural Capitalism, an influential book by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins that lays out a blueprint for a new green economy in which nothing goes to waste.
Not coincidentally, Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute were also hired as consultants by Wal-Mart to study a radical revamp of its trucking fleet.
I heard Amory Lovins talk back in the 1980s, when he and then-wife Hunter were still a team. I thought then that he should have been put in charge of US energy policy because he could crunch numbers in a non-dogmatic way.
Will this change make me a Wal-Mart shopper? Probably not, except in extraordinary circumstances -- like the time I was in Taos, N.M., last winter, setting out on a road trip, and I realized that I had forgotten to pack any underwear. You can buy art in Taos, you can buy crafty stuff, you can buy sheepskin coats, and rugs from Central Asia--but about the only place to buy underwear is at Wal-Mart.
(Ventilated summer hat tip to Rebecca Blood.)