Wal-Mart is the number 1 consumer of electricity in the United States outside the federal government, using about 1 percent of all the electricity sold in the country. With an eye toward lowering its energy bills, the retailer has set a goal of reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by its stores through energy use by 20 percent within five years as compared to 2005 levels.  

“We would be missing out on a huge opportunity,” by ignoring energy efficiency, said Charles Zimmerman, Wal-Mart vice president. New Wal-Mart stores now include standard features such as skylights that allow stores to save as much as 80 percent on daytime lighting costs. Future features may include motion-detectors that turn on display lights only when customers are near, dark-colored “solar walls” that collect the sun’s energy on cold days and use it to heat stores, and covers on meat and cheese displays to keep cold air from escaping.  

To evaluate energy savings and maximize operational efficiencies at its stores, Wal-Mart has implemented an elaborate, centralized monitoring system that, for example, alerts corporate headquarters when a consumer opens a freezer or refrigerator in any store and if a problem exists.

Experts say Wal-Mart’s vast influence will have an even bigger impact on greenhouse gas emission-reduction efforts than the steps the retailer is taking at its stores. Zimmerman estimates Wal-Mart’s operations worldwide contribute about 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, while its thousands of suppliers emit a total of 10 times that amount. Wal-Mart also has partnered with other companies to boost efficiency, resulting in, among other things, a new ultra efficient rooftop air conditioning unit recently released by Lennox International.

The retailer’s efforts have drawn the attention of decision makers. “It’s the most inspiring talk I’ve ever seen,” said Art Rosenfeld, California Energy Commissioner, of a recent presentation by Zimmerman at a climate-change conference in California, which has set a goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emission by 15 percent by 2020.  EC