In general, I am not a big fan of Earth Day promotions. Because I try to live a greener lifestyle every day, it can be difficult for me to tolerate events that make a big deal about sustainability for one day (or week, or month) out of the whole year. Still, this year, I found myself disappointed about the fact that Walmart didn’t seem to do much for Earth Day â€” or at least not publicly.
Why the disappointment? Well, because of it’s sheer size, if Walmart had made a big deal about Earth Day this year (like they have in the past), it likely would have introduced the concept to many people who wouldn’t have paid attention otherwise. While I know they are doing a lot behind the scenes in terms of sustainability, I’d love to see more of that translate into visible initiatives that customers can not only see, but in which they can participate.
So here are my ideas for what the retailer could have done, and that I hope they will consider in the future â€” for Earth Day or any time:
Rewards for reusable bags
Many stores offer small discounts for customers who bring their own bags â€” generally in the neighborhood of 5-10 cents off per bag. I think Walmart can do better. Pennies off might suffice for customers like myself who would use their own bags regardless of any incentive, but how about 3-5% off my order every time I bring my own bags â€” whether they are Walmart branded bags or not? This would be an incentive for those customers who shop at Walmart specifically to save money, especially if they’re doing a big shopping trip like grocery shopping.
Class(es) in the garden center
Nothing is more local than produce grown in your own back yard or kitchen, so I’d love to see Walmart incorporate teaching into their sustainable actions. Every state has master gardeners, and they have lots of knowledge to share about what works locally and what doesn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if customers could stop by for classes on what food to plant, when to plant it and how to care for the plants long-term? I’ve seen other stores do this for flowers, trees, etc., but I can’t remember seeing this specifically for local produce. This would make a great Earth Day event, but it would also work just as a general store event for the spring.
Special section for local produce
The produce section often has local produce, but my experience has been that it often isn’t labeled well or obvious that the produce is local without reading tiny wording on too-small signs. It would be nice if all local and/or organic produce could be grouped together and identified to make them easier for customers to find. I’ve seen this in some stores, as shown in the photo above, but wouldn’t it great if this were the standard for all stores? And since there are TVs in the produce section, it would be great if there was running educational information about why local, organic produce is more sustainable and healthier for customers.
In 2010, Walmart did make a commitment to double the amount of locally grown produce it sells in the U.S. by the end of 2015, so hopefully this idea isn’t far from becoming a reality. Walmart defines local as grown and sold in the same state.
Carry low- or no-VOC paint
This feels like a no-brainer to me. With as many options as are available in low- and no-VOC paint, it just seems like it would be relatively painless to carry only those brands that contain little to no volatile organic compounds. Customers will be thankful when they open the paint cans and realize there is almost no smell.
Reduced product packaging
I get that merchandise has to be packed a certain way for shipping to minimize damage, but there’s no reason so much non-recyclable packaging has to be passed down to the consumer. I’d love to see Walmart call for their manufacturers to create less packaging. In other words, I don’t want a bag inside another bag inside a box inside another box, with no way to recycle the bags. Either take that packaging back from customers and use it make something else, or don’t give it to us at all.
Green product options ALL the time, in every section
There’s nothing I hate more than getting used to buying a green product, only to have it disappear from shelves completely. For example, organic cotton bedding and soy candles (REAL soy â€” not Glade’s “soy, but mostly paraffin” candles) were introduced a few years back during Earth Month. I was ecstatic! A few weeks later, however, once the initial stock had been sold out, those products never returned. I was more than a little disappointed, and I’d like to see those type of products come around to stay.
Today, there are eco-friendlier alternatives for almost any product you can think of, from diapers (cloth, anyone?) to clothes, umbrellas, soap and tires. If there were at least ONE eco-friendly option in each category, it would make shopping a lot easier for those of us who are genuinely concerned about what we buy, where it came from and how it was made.
So what are your ideas? What could Walmart, and other retailers of a similar size, do to make sure that sustainability is a priority?
Disclosure: I am a member of the Walmart Moms program. Walmart has provided me with compensation to share my ideas for Earth Month. Participation is voluntary and as usual, all opinions are my own.
Photos from Walmart Stores on Flickr