Short of a massive societal shift, it seems that fully "fixing" Walmart's environmental problems without shrinking its business is a pipe dream.
But some argue that by virtue of its size, Walmart may be uniquely positioned to lead environmental efforts.
"There's some critical size after which companies actually can begin to commit resources to implementing green practices. We would criticize those big companies at our peril." says Byrd. Indeed, the store has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on some green projects. Byrd adds that the retailer could be uniquely positioned to shift the economics of being green.
"If they see something that they like, they change markets," says Byrd. One example he points to are natural gas-powered trucks. Walmart is considering adding these trucks to its fleet, and Byrd says if it orders hundreds or thousands of them, it will promote more corporations to use them. "Manufacturers will design them much better, and the prices of those vehicles will come down," he says.
Similarly, many consumers are more likely to go green when it's cost-effective. The need for cheap groceries can be more pressing than any environmental repercussions. But low prices can create a vicious cycle. Walmart, the employer of 2.1 million workers, has borne heavy criticism for its compensation policies, particularly its recent cuts to health coverage for some workers.
That kind of cut perpetuates consumption and waste, says Mitchell: "Many people feel so strapped that they feel they have to buy the six-dollar toaster, but part of the reason that so many people are in that situation has to do with the Walmart economy."