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Op-Ed: Walmart is Failing to Honor its Commitment to Roll Back Greenhouse HFC Gases

By Danielle Gagne, HFC & Climate Policy Analyst, and Lowell Chandler, HFC Intern, Environmental Investigation Agency

Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, is said to have telephoned Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, on Thanksgiving Day 2010 to ask him to sign the Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) resolution, which asks companies to begin phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 2015.

Walmart’s Duke agreed, as did more than 400 other retailers, manufacturers, and stakeholders that make up the CGF. In an impressive step to take meaningful action to protect the global climate, the CGF publicly released its HFC resolution on the first day of the Cancun Climate Summit in 2010.

Nearly three years have passed since the CGF resolution; and the world’s largest retailer, with revenue of more than $460 billion in 2012 and a notable environmental track record greening its supply chain, has failed to make any substantial progress towards keeping its commitment to phase-down HFCs.

HFCs - super greenhouse gases with hundreds to thousands of times more warming potential than carbon dioxide - are commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners. Even though HFC-free refrigeration technologies are readily available in the marketplace, Walmart continues to use HFCs in all but a tiny handful of its U.S. stores, which contributes 13 percent of the company’s total carbon footprint. HFC leakage from one store alone can, on average, emit more carbon dioxide equivalent emissions than 300 passenger cars emit each year.

As detailed in our report, The Dirty Dozen: How your local supermarket is killing the planet, Walmart has yet to publicly produce a clear and comprehensive policy on HFCs, develop a state-of-the-art maintenance and operations program to reduce HFC refrigerant leakage, or install any HFC-free refrigeration systems in new or existing stores. This is despite signing the CGF HFC resolution three years ago, and opening 146 new stores in 2012 in the United States. If Walmart continues to procrastinate, it will lose its opportunity to be an industry leader.

Walmart looks great on paper

In 2012, EIA and the Sierra Club wrote to Walmart urging them to build at least 50 percent of their new stores with HFC-free refrigeration. In response, the company stated that it’s on track to meet its commitment.

We are “currently executing a global strategy to address harmful refrigerants, and develop and incorporate the latest innovations and technologies in effective, energy efficient, and environmentally responsible refrigeration solutions,” the letter stated. “We believe our role as the world’s largest retailer comes with responsibility to lead the way in protecting the environment.”

In our report, we found that if Walmart employs similar maintenance practices as it does in its UK chain, Asda, it would prevent HFC emissions of about 3.2 million tons of CO2e, which is the same as the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over 600,000 cars. This figure is only from reducing leakage rates of HFC refrigeration systems, so if Walmart commits to taking action on HFC-free refrigeration, it would greatly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Turning words into action

Companies throughout Europe and Canada are beginning to make the switch, installing natural refrigeration systems that use common alternatives such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. In Europe alone, there are almost 3,000 supermarkets using HFC-free refrigeration systems. Some supermarkets in the United States have started installing HFC-free systems, such as Hannaford’s. Supermarkets with these HFC-free systems have found that natural refrigerant gases are generally cheaper than HFCs and more energy efficient with energy savings between 10-50 percent.

Walmart has an obligation to lead the way in sustainability. Walmart can choose to be a leader in instituting energy efficient HFC-free refrigeration or it can continue to use outdated, inefficient, climate-damaging technologies and fall behind its competitors. To maintain its self-anointed role as the industry leader for environmental protection, Walmart must validate its statements and become a leader in climate-friendly HFC-free refrigeration technologies.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an international campaigning organization committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime and campaigning to protect endangered species and the natural world.

[image credit: Walmart Corporate: Flickr cc]

3p Contributor

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