Wal-Mart is “green”, while nature is gone

Ryan deBiase

In a move to become more eco-friendly, the Wal-Mart Corporation has opened an experimental store in the Dallas area that boasts several environmentally-friendly innovations, such as wind turbines, solar panels and various water-saving designs to increase efficiency.

Although this plan for a “green” Wal-Mart appears promising, it still represents a minor fix-it for a company whose environmental record is shady at best and absolutely appalling at worst.

“Green” design has been growing in popularity within the architectural profession as a means of lowering energy consumption to keep building costs down. Wal-Mart apparently has leapt onto this trend for strictly economic reasons — to keep utility costs down during a time when they are rising rapidly. The environmental positives are only residual effects for a company that prides itself on its low, low prices and efficient business model.

Yet, employing a more efficient means of energy consumption does not remove the big-box retailer from its other environmental shortcomings.

Undoubtedly, future “green” Wal-Marts will still devour beautiful open spaces from the prairies of the Midwest to the peat bogs of northeastern Ohio to the mountain peaks of Appalachia. (I’ve actually seen a Wal-Mart on top of a mountain in northern Pennsylvania!) Slashed, burned, chewed and flattened, these natural areas will become the sites of sprawling asphalt and one grandiose concrete bunker.

With Wal-Mart Supercenters averaging more than 180,000 square feet and consuming about 20 acres of land mass, their effect on the environment is devastating, regardless of how many wind turbines or low-flush toilets the store utilizes.

The presence of a Wal-Mart results in the perpetuation of urban sprawl in a community. One must take into account the environmental rigors of widening a highway to accommodate the greater influx of traffic to the area, not to mention the air pollution resulting from said higher amount of traffic. Those cars will require more fuel to reach their destination as the store will be located farther from their community.

A Supercenter also puts a huge strain on the local economy, usually resulting in the closure of various local retailers. This deals another blow to the environment since the empty stores represent wasted space: more vacant parking lots and concrete bunkers.

These wasted spaces will not just go away. They will linger through the years as testimony to our inability to appreciate and protect the natural environment. Eventually, these “green” Wal-Marts will probably be abandoned in favor of the newest trend in efficient retail. They, too, will sit as monuments to our obsession with consumerism. Concrete and asphalt do not biodegrade and thus remain permanent blemishes on the earth’s surface.

One simply has to travel east on state Route 59 to view the bleakness of abandoned businesses manifest in the old Gabriel’s Plaza’s empty lot and blank storefronts. Optimistically speaking, another business could always move in. Realistically, it will probably remain vacant for an eternity, representing just more wasted space.

Representing complete waste.

On the surface, Wal-Mart’s eco-friendly design has its perks, but it only symbolizes a Band-Aid for a much larger problem, one that may remain beyond repair if our consumer ideology persists. It will be like a Band-Aid for a shotgun wound, a Band-Aid for a hole in the Earth.

Ryan deBiase is a junior English major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].