Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Humes (Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet, 2009, etc.) chronicles how one man's vision transformed Wal-Mart into an industry leader for sustainability.
While pursuing an advanced degree in international affairs, Jib Ellison also worked as a river guide. In 1978, at the height of the Cold War, he organized a trip in Siberia to bring together Soviet and American college students—the first of a series of international student expeditions. He then parlayed his bridge-building and outdoor skills into a career working with a consultancy that specialized in changing corporate culture. A few years later, he and three colleagues started a new firm that broadened its mission to helping businesses solve crises. In 2003, he heard a lecture on how to live a sustainable life, and he had an epiphany. The same principles—eliminating and recycling waste, operating cleanly and efficiently, etc.—could be applied by corporate management to maximize profits while protecting the environment at the same time. Going green made good business sense. When his partners were unwilling to push “green makeovers” in an unfriendly business environment, the author writes, Ellison decided to strike out on his own. He landed a meeting with Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott. If going green would help his bottom line and improve the corporate image, then Scott was willing to give it a try. Ellison made a number of suggestions that translated into millions of dollars in savings while reducing the company's carbon footprint. Scott was sold on the idea, and over time he embraced a vision of how Wal-Mart could play a significant role in using its economic clout with competitors and suppliers to set industry-wide standards for protecting the environment and improving the quality of the products. Most recently, Wal-Mart is supporting the development of a sustainability index for products for display on the barcodes.
The company’s commitment is yet to be tested in the long-term, but for now, Humes provides a fascinating story of the evolution of corporate responsibility for the environment.