90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Walmart Pushes For A Greener China

Chinese customers shop at Walmart's first Sam's Club in China's southern city, Guangzhou in 2009. (AP)

Chinese customers shop at Walmart's first Sam's Club in China's southern city, Guangzhou in 2009. (AP)

Digest this– Walmart is getting credit for pushing China towards sustainability. Or as Walmart’s CEO told a room full of Chinese vendors in 2008, “A year from now, each and every one of you will be more socially and environmentally responsible.”

Yes, this is the same Walmart that’s accused of littering the American landscape with box stores, and bullying vendors into lowering prices and costs.

China expert Orville Schell writes in the Atlantic that Walmart and China are conducting a “bold experiment in consumer behavior and environmental stewardship that will be critical to the fate of the planet’s environment.”

Schell says that people in China have been drawn to big chains like Walmart after rampant food safety scandals, like the melamine-tainted milk of 2008 that left at least 6 dead and 30,000 sick.

“It’s the brand names in China that people trust, because they know that companies like Walmart have a lot to lose if they get caught cheating,” Schell told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

And Schell points out that Walmart has been caught cheating in China– paying fines and temporarily closing stores for mislabeling pork as organic. They’ve also come under criticism for selling produce tainted with toxic chemical residues.

Yet they are viewed positively there, and are making some changes to the way factories work. For instance, a bath towel supplier to Walmart has cut electricity usage by about a quarter, and water usage by a third at Walmart’s urging.

Walmart is also relying on local environmentalists who monitor which factories illegally dump waste in the country, to make sure that their suppliers aren’t on the list. 

Schell says that no matter how well China does with its environmental promises, it’s still in their interest to create more consumers, which is not sustainable.


  • Orville Schell, Arthur Ross director of the Center on U.S.-China relations at the Asia Society in New York

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Anamda20584

    So let me get this right – ChinaMart is a good corporate citizen?

    I know what they say, look at what they do.  Look how they treat their own employees – eliminated pension, cut medical benefits, reduced uors so many of the hourly are working poor.  XMAS bonus disappeared years ago.

    Want to save the environment – how about NOT loading cheap disposable junk on a big boat headed in two weeks for a landfill in the US.

    Their window dressing BS is just that.  Don’t believe me – hey, how’s the koolaid.

  • Pam Terry

    Walmart a responsible corporate citizen? No matter how much lipstick you put on it, it is the epitome of what is wrong with country and its consumer culture.  If it was worried about its corporate image, why did it not support universal healthcare last year and lead other corporations to sanity in our national debate.  I DO NOT shop Walmart and constantly tell people, if they don’t stop shopping Walmart, soon everyone will be WORKING for Walmart.

    Pam Terry
    A proud retiree member of the Communication Workers of America (US Airways Passenger Service retiree)

  • Cassy

    What about using less? 

    I avoid Walmart because of the social and environmental costs associated with their products. It seems plausible that the corporation could pursue “green” production, but isn’t the real problem mass consumerism? If people wanted less, if we were more aware of how to re-use and repair what we already own, we would use less, fewer products would be produced and we would have far less impact on the environment. 

  • J Frog

    I only shop Walmart for goods that are made in America or sold by American, Japanese or Korean companies.  No other products…however if I determine they are high quality foreign made products at a good price then I may purchase.  On rare occasions I will purchase lower quality products from Walmart if they are really inexpensive.  Other than that, I will not purchase from Walmart….except for groceries.

  • Rahrah

    This is great. I tell my students all the  time that WalMart is suffering from a Brand Conflict, and has been doing so for a number of years as reflected in the flat or declining sales in existing stores. For good reason too. However there is a compelling business reason to be sustainable, to be a good neighbor and a good employer too. Love them or hate them, WalMart has the clout AND the incentive to do great things. Remember their amazing performance during Katrina, and they are banning that wasteful clamshell packaging which has a potentially large impact on all of retailing.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 1 4 Comments

Breastfeeding Gets A Boost From Philadelphia Hospitals

The city's major birthing hospitals have stopped sending new moms home with baby formula, to encourage breastfeeding.

August 29 Comment

World Championship Tug-Of-War Is ‘A Thing Of Beauty’

This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.

August 29 Comment

Repelling Mosquitoes With A Natural Sticky Patch

The Kite Patch releases odors that block the bug's carbon dioxide receptors, sending them in another direction.

August 28 3 Comments

Catching Up With The Polyphonic Spree

The choral rock band out of Dallas, Texas, has been thrilling audiences with its live performances for over a decade.