Wal-Mart: The Average Joe Is Greener Than You Think

Wal-Mart-a favorite target of activists' groups for what they call its unabashed "greenwashing"-has announced a new research initiative, with the first effort focused solely on the environmental influences among typical shoppers.

Dubbing its new survey the "Live Better Index," "an ongoing barometer of consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors," the company says the effort will allow it "to keep a pulse on what's important to our customers."

The first wave of research polled more than 2,500 Americans on five products: Compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs), organic milk, concentrated/reduced-packaging liquid laundry detergents, extended-life paper products and organic baby food. (The company says it selected these five "because consumers can make a conscious decision to purchase them for their environmentally friendly and cost-saving benefits versus conventional versions.")

While 57% of Americans now say they are extremely concerned about the environment, only 43% of those in the Wal-Mart survey think they will be "extremely green" in the next five years. And only 11% of Americans say they are "extremely green" today. Overall, 62 % say they would buy more eco-friendly products if there were no price difference.



Nearly half (47%) say they completely agree that buying environmentally friendly products makes them feel like a smart consumer, and 68% agree that "even the small act of recycling at home has an impact on the environment."

New Hampshire had the highest average adoption rate of "Live Better Index" products, at more than 20%, Wal-Mart says, followed by Nevada, Wyoming, Iowa and Colorado. In terms of CFLs, Connecticut ranked highest in adoption, with more than 20% using the energy-saving bulbs.

With 180 million shoppers annually and nearly 90% of American households shopping at its stores, Wal-Mart hopes it can "drive accessibility and affordability for sustainable product to consumers who may have not thought about buying 'green' in the past."

For Wal-Mart, creating a new crowd of environmentalists to sell to is a smart strategy, especially since to many current environmental activists, Wal-Mart more or less represents the devil.

Many accuse Wal-Mart of nearly non-stop greenwashing. Environmentalist groups have accused it of organic fraud by deliberately mislabeling products. The influential Cornucopia Institute, for example, titled its white paper on Wal-Mart organic products "Market expansion? Or market delusion?"

Even Business Week recently said the retailer wasn't living up to its own goals in selling organic goods, stocking only between 100 and 200 organic items per store, not the 400 SKUs it had told investors it was aiming for. (Wal-Mart promptly fired off a letter disputing that claim and says it offers more than 400 organic items in most Wal-Mart stores.)

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