Morality and Green Jobs – Our Work with Wal-Mart

March 20, 2009 at 8:53 pm 3 comments

dsc_1294-1Penned by Nick

Earlier this week, we partnered with Wal-Mart to find them a Sustainability Manager for their China operation. Despite their efforts to improve their environmental practices, many folks still view Wal-Mart as guilty and negligent:

“Before Wal-Mart Hires a Sustainability Manager, they need a Morality Manager to assure that their painted toys do not contain lead, that their milk does not contain toxins, and other crimes that we are not aware of. After they make significant progress in this area and their environment is not held hostage along with their sweat shop workers are treated with respect, then we can address sustainability issues.”

The quote above came from an individual who’s sincerely concerned about corporate practices, and whether or implied or otherwise, this quote strikes at the core of what we do at Bright Green Talent.

At Bright Green Talent, our credibility is our currency. To the extent we work with organizations who have questionable environmental or ethical practices, we risk tarnishing our own reputation.

“Reputational risk” is often overlooked and hugely under-apppreciated. Living up to Wal-Mart’s sustainability standards means we have to raise our bar — if we’re going to represent them and find them the greenest of employees, we need to be better recruiters ourselves.

I always joke that I love my job so much because it makes me be a better person. In the professional context, my personal life is just as much part of the story as anything else. And so, when we work with someone like Wal-Mart, it’s not because they are the most green of all employers (though they are up there), but because we believe in the vision they’re pursuing. Removing lead from toys and toxins from milks is what this relationship is about.

Casting stones is no way to engage people in the environmental dialogue — whether it be personally or professionally. If we’re going to talk, lets talk about how to make it better and be part of the solution, and in the process, keep everyone’s reputation intact.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. joanium  |  March 21, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Some people may say that the Wal-Mart business model is inherently unsustainable. No matter how green the produce they sell may be, the fact is that they’re a big box retailer that buys in bulk and undercut prices of smaller retailers. Drives locals out of business and increases the transport footprint of shoppers travelling to a large retailer.

    It’s quite a tricky line to walk. I’ve worked with the Defence force to look at green procurement. Lead free bullets are an interesting concept, more so when you learn that there is rather toxic land contamination by that lead at firing ranges where soldiers practice.

    I’m working on an ‘eco’ resort at the moment, which will be as green and community minded as any resort can be. But the fact is that its business is to fly people over from far away places to have enjoyable experiences that could probably be substituted by enjoyable experiences closer to their home.

    A colleague of mine has been approached by a Big Tobacco Company about looking at the sustainability of their supply chain.

    And no matter how sustainable nuclear power might be compared to alternatives, some people will not want to support it because they’re against the centralisation of power (both energy and political).

    I think these are tricky questions and people will make their own judgements about what they can morally be involved with. I suspect at some point, people will make the call that they cannot engage in a dialogue with a partner whose activities they see as fundamentally unsustainable, immoral or counter-productive.

    Reply
  • 2. Christine  |  March 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    WalMart’s supplier summit in China from last October is available on the web- several hours of video. If they change their purchasing practices as outlined in that summit, they can do more and faster to positively impact global sustainable energy consumption, waste reduction and labor practices than any government or NGO could accomplish in the same time frame. We are very positive about their efforts- and they can and will go farther.

    Now if they could get people to consume less stuff…. that part’s going to be difficult given it’s their core business to sell many things that are simply not needed.

    Reply
  • 3. Bob Drapeau  |  April 2, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Nick I read your comments with great interest. I will hopefully speak with Christina soon about the Wal-Mart position.
    I have lived in China for 13 years, and have traveled here and throughout Asia since 1987. While at Timberland I experienced just how easy it is to make a difference in many ways if you have passion. Together with our factory partners we upgraded the quality of life in poor rural schools and we actually made it look easy. However, for every good thing we did, there were 100 other things that needed to change. Whether it be factory urinals with continuous running water during drought season, or mega shopping malls with air condition blasting with wide open windows and doors!

    The most frustrating thing for me living in China is the complete ignorance, selfishness and obtuse attitude that many locals have. How many times have I seen a child in a car throw out a empty container or plastic bag with their parent saying nothing? This country is also corrupt to it’s core and I am not surprised at all concerning the milk scare and the toxic paint issues. I have two young children here, and this brings a whole different perspective to the situation. So when an opportunity comes up like this one, I very much want a chance to be part of it, and feel that I am uniquely qualified in many ways.

    I would be excited about working with Wal-Mart on their initiatives. They do not receive as much credit as they deserve for their environmental efforts. They do have a long way to go and seem willing to make that journey. Can we save the world? Probably not, at least all at once. However, Wal-Mart carries a big stick and in today’s economic environment I believe that they have the ears of the Chinese authorities. They have direct and indirect connections to thousands of suppliers who employ thousands of employees. I believe the factory owners are more inclined to listen to their customers demands or risk losing the business and run the risk of closing down.

    I am sure that we have much more to talk about but I just wanted to drop you a note to say I support your efforts and want to be part of it!

    Bob

    Reply

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