By Matt Courtland
In the spring of 2009 it happened. The Green Committee I founded and currently chair decided to utilize Walmart in our ongoing educational campaign about the benefits of sustainability.
At the time I was horrified by Walmart’s business tricks that ran competitors out of town; the unjust wages, benefits, and lack of promotions for women and minorities they defended; and their apparent lack of sustainability initiatives. So I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath when a committee member suggested Walmart make its way into our 2009 Earth Day Celebration. How can you be serious, I thought. While I was exhaling, my colleague told us that the store stocks a variety of “green” household cleaning products and thought we could show being sustainable does not have to cost more or be inconvenient. In the end the plan worked like a charm. Thank you, Walmart.
Walmart took center stage in our company’s second Earth Day celebration. The year before our Earth Day educational program revolved around the benefits buying locally grown foods. To get our employees involved, we purchased a variety of organic seed packets from High Mowing Seeds and placed them in our two kitchens for employees to take home. Knowing that not everyone had gardening experience, we categorized the seeds into the following “green thumb” levels.
Novice Gardener – Try something that will start quickly and does not need a lot of care and attention. Some options are sunflowers, cucumbers, or basil.
Intermediate Gardener – Enjoy something you have not grown in the past, possibly nasturtium, arugula, or Echinacea.
Advanced Gardener – We’ll leave the choice up to you. Enjoy.
The seeds were snapped up like hotcakes and we received a lot of positive feedback for our focus on promoting gardening and supporting local farmers.
When Earth Day 2009 rolled around, we scrambled for ideas that would be both engaging and educational. We scoured the web looking for local activities, but the few items we found were taking place over the weekend instead of on April 22nd. We shared a list of local Earth Day events with our employees, but wanted to do more. And that is when it was suggested we pull Walmart into our plans.
To get things rolling on the morning of Earth Day, we put a polling station in our main kitchen and asked employees what they thought about the going green by posing the following question:
The current sustainability movement, defined by the increased focus on protecting the natural world while continuing to work, live, and play, is:
- A way of life.
- The way of the future.
- A worthwhile investment.
- An inconvenience.
- Too expensive
- A passing trend.
Employees were told to write their name and on a piece of paper (in all surveys since we have utilized Survey Monkey and Google Docs), vote for their definition of sustainability, and deposit their ballot into a sealed box. People were allowed to cast their vote until 1pm and, by the time we tallied the results, over 80% of the company had participated.
The Green Committee selected two winners, one from each category, and gave both people identical Walmart grocery bags filled with green goodies. We then sent out an email to the rest of the company announcing the winners, listing the prizes, and explaining that all the items were purchased less than 2 ½ miles away from our office. We went on to say that not only were these products, such as Green Works bathroom cleaner and Ecos laundry detergent, available at Walmart, they were similarly priced to traditional brands yet they were far better for the health of the natural world.
One month after receiving his bag full of green prizes, we asked the employee who viewed sustainability as a passing fad how his family liked the products he had won. He gave us a smile and said that they actually worked pretty well. This is all we could ask for from an Earth Day educational campaign. Thank you, Walmart.
Matt Courtland of The Natural Strategy educates people on sustainable business practices while reconnecting them to the energy and inspiration found in nature.