With its 100th California retail store now being powered by rooftop solar panels, Wal-Mart moves closer to its goal of powering all of its stores with 100 percent renewable energy. In recent years the nation’s largest retailer has been echoing its “Save money. Live better.” marketing slogan in the way it operates, emerging as a corporate sustainability leader, with plans to make its supply chain greener and investments in solar power and other green solutions that also boost its bottom line.
SolarCity is managing 70 of Wal-Mart’s 100 solar installations in California. Through SolarCity, Wal-Mart has generated thousands of jobs. Since it began working with Wal-Mart on solar projects in 2010, the solar installer and power company has generated 3,000 contract construction jobs in California and 1,213 new hires for SolarCity.
Solar power has become appealing to large corporations not only because of its low environmental impact but also because of its ability to drive down operating costs. Last year, Wal-Mart revealed that it saved $1 million on its electricity bills after it installed solar panels at several of its stores.
Yet with its growing sustainability efforts, the company has drawn criticism from those who see its moves as cost-cutting measures first and green decisions second, while environmentalists question whether such a massive corporation can truly be green.
The company also was criticized this year by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which claimed that the retail giant would take approximately 300 years to reach its ambitious goal of using 100 percent renewable energy. ILSR’s “Walmart’s Greenwash” report described how the company’s sustainability campaign is actually devastating the environment.
On the other hand, the retailer points to its shrinking environmental footprint amid the newest green power installments. On its website, Wal-Mart reports that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership program, its California and Texas renewable energy projects alone make the company the second-largest purchaser of green power among U.S. retailers.
The company also reports that the solar power efforts in California will have lasting impact, namely providing 10 to 30 percent of each retail facility’s electricity needs and generating up to 70 million kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy per year, or the equivalent of powering over 5,400 homes.
Moreover, the solar installations will help the company avoid producing more than 21,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or the equivalent of taking approximately 4,100 cars off the road. It also reported plans to expand its solar footprint to more than 75 percent of its California stores by the end of next year.
Beyond California, other Wal-Mart stores across the country will see a solar transformation. Earlier this year, the company announced that it will install solar energy systems on 27 Massachusetts stores by 2014.
Wal-Mart’s solar power efforts will continue to climb, as the company aims to have 90 megawatts of capacity by the end of this year, which would edge out IKEA and Apple. It also aims for 1,000 solar panels installed by 2020, Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently reported.