Lee Scott's Shiny Green Lexus
Suppose you run one of the most environmentally offensive companies on the planet. Would you then expect people to be impressed that you drive an eco-friendly car? Last week Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told the Chicago Tribune that he was selling his Volkswagen Bug and that he now drives a Lexus hybrid. "I love the idea of emission control," he effused, "and I just hate dependence on foreign oil."
Well, it's helpful of Scott to do his part, even if he must explain himself in such a xenophobic manner. But Wal-Mart contributes to sprawl, pollution (by causing traffic problems), terrible land-use patterns and -- speaking of "foreign oil" --overuse of cars (as we kill Main Street and replace it with big box stores, we drive more and walk less). Wal-Mart also, quite often, turns attractive, populous ecosystems into big ugly parking lots. Perhaps an even more profound environmental objection--and one that deserves more attention -- is the way cheap, poorly made goods of the sort sold at Wal-Mart contribute to a culture of disposability that threatens to bury us in garbage. (For more on that problem, check out Heather Rogers's excellent forthcoming book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, which The New Press will publish in October.) The Tribune shrewdly noted that Scott has "more than a personal interest" in the energy issue, since, many analysts believe, high gas prices are affecting Wal-Mart's profits by squeezing its low-income shoppers.
But some of Wal-Mart's newest customers aren't affected by gas prices: They don't drive cars. Perhaps hoping to distract attention from controversy over its urban expansion, Wal-Mart finally found an unspoiled piece of rural America, opening a Supercenter in Middlefield, Ohio, catering specifically to the local Amish community, with eighty-four spots to hitch your horse and buggy. Now that's an environmentally sound vehicle.