Green Thoughts

By Bob Lilienfeld, Editor

The environmental community and media were generally skeptical about this new direction. Ultimately, it would be up to the public to decide if BP was serious, or merely wrapping itself in an environmental flag as a way to boost stakeholder perceptions and hopefully its stock price.

BP's actions regarding the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig and the subsequent behavior of its CEO leave little room to believe that the company's sustainability announcements were anything more than propaganda. In fact, there is a good chance that BP itself will not survive the ecological and public relations messes it has created.

Walmart, too, has publicly announced its commitment to selling more sustainable products and building more sustainable operations. Many in the environmental community and media were also skeptical of this move toward sustainability, feeling it was simply a way to divert public attention from the employee-related issues and lawsuits Walmart currently faces.

In the past, Walmart aggressively promoted its products as being "Made in the USA". Today, it would be hard to find many products that are produced here. The reason is simple: Walmart’s mission is to deliver the lowest possible prices to its customers, and those products are currently produced in China. Thus, continually delivering low prices is the true meaning of sustainability to Walmart, and as long as environmental savings lead to economic savings, it will aggressively promote its green accomplishments.

BP is learning that once an ecological problem occurs, a communications strategy based upon environmental stewardship can backfire with huge negative consequences, especially if suspicion existed beforehand about the commitment to that strategy. This is the essential lesson for Walmart: Its commitment to the environment must stand up to scrutiny, the test of time, and the tests of how it solves related problems when they do occur. Otherwise, the environment will simply become the next “Made in the USA” in Walmart’s long term drive to keep prices low – no matter what the ultimate cost.      

What Walmart (and Others) Can Learn from BP

A few years ago, British Petroleum announced that it would focus on developing sustainable energy products. The company did so with great public relations fanfare. It began using the name 'BP', and its new green and sunny yellow logo colors illustrated environmental and renewable energy commitments.