Higher Expectations

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) has been a long-term supporter of

Environmental Building News (EBN) but was disappointed in your story on Wal-Mart’s environmental progress [Vol. 15, No. 1]. The article fails to examine the full breadth of the deleterious impact the company has on our country. You argue that because of Wal-Mart’s size, its environmental actions demand attention. We agree, but add that any judgment about sustainability demands equal scrutiny of the company’s business practices. Clearly, Wal-Mart fails when measured by standards that include economic and social justice:

• The average annual pay for a Wal-Mart sales associate is $1,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

• Wal-Mart fails to provide health insurance to over half its employees, leaving them on public assistance.

• Female Wal-Mart employees have been paid and promoted at lower rates than their male coworkers, forming the subject of the largest class-action lawsuit in history. Pending lawsuits also charge Wal-Mart with routine racial discrimination.

• Wal-Mart systematically fights workers’ right to unionize, firing organizers and closing entire business units that threatened to unionize.

EBN’s coverage of Wal-Mart included commentary from the company’s stakeholders and consultants, but opponents are not hard to find. Nationally organized coalitions challenging Wal-Mart include major environmental groups such as the Sierra Club (the facts above come from Club-supported walmartwatch.org), faith-based groups, local businesses and community associations, labor unions, and social-justice activists. These groups stand for workplace dignity and human rights, corporate responsibility for industrial operations, and the development of sustainable communities—all of which Wal-Mart systematically derides.

The breadth of this coalition indicates another impact of Wal-Mart’s size: it cannot be successfully challenged on environmental grounds alone. Those working for social and environmental progress cannot be satisfied by baby steps from a corporate giant, nor can we afford to pretend that Wal-Mart’s poor environmental record is unconnected to its disastrous labor, health, and social policies. As Sam Walton himself said, “High expectations are the key to everything.” Our organization absolutely agrees, especially when it comes to environmental sustainability and social justice.

Raphael Sperry, President

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility

San Francisco, California

Published March 1, 2006

(2006, March 1). Higher Expectations. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/higher-expectations

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