Walmart’s solar power parking lots fuel a cleaner reputation

| September 18, 2013
walmart solar power parking

Walmart plans to make 1,000 solar panel installations by 2020 (via SmartPlanet).

Beleaguered in the media for its labor practices, Walmart moved forward last week with two initiatives that could improve its reputation. The Big Box retailer announced that it’s demanding a major reduction in hazardous chemicals from suppliers and continuing its quest to power its stores through 100 percent renewable or so-called clean energy.

To demonstrate its commitment, Walmart is installing solar panels at a covered parking lot in Glendale, AZ. The solar power parking panels will be added to the tops of the covered parking spaces and provide electricity to the Walmart located on Northern Avenue. The power-generating system can provide up to 20 percent of the power for the store, and, according to Walmart, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500 to 10,000 metric tons per year.

The installation of the panels works toward the retailer’s environmental sustainability goals, which it announced in 2005 without setting a clear date for achieving its mission. The company has made great strides towards environmental sustainability, having completed 200 solar installations around the country. It has plans to install 1,000 by 2020.

Walmart’s environmental sustainability efforts are a cause for celebration for the clean energy industry. The company is the biggest retailer in America and globally by revenue, with more than 4,420 stores in the United States and 10,000+ worldwide. It heads the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) list of U.S. companies based on their solar energy capacity, topping out at 65,000 kW of solar power—enough to power the yearly energy needs of more than 10,000 homes.

The Glendale store is just one of several Walmarts in Arizona that the company has targeted for covered parking panels. The state was selected as a test for the technology because it has “the perfect climate for it,” Chris Schroeder, senior manager of sustainability communications at Walmart, recently told The Glendale Star.

If Walmart’s actions in California are any indication, the tests have to be going well. The company partnered with SolarCity in 2011 to install solar panels on up to 60 more stores in the state, which would boost its solar portfolio to more than 75 percent of its California locations. Walmart is also making progress in Maryland, where it installed ten new solar power parking rooftops earlier this year, upping the total there to 13,000 panels. But the company’s efforts aren’t limited to the United States alone: It has more than 300 renewable energy projects in operation or under development worldwide.

Environmental advocates point to Walmart’s projects as proof of the financial advantages of clean energy, arguing that multinational corporations would not undertake such efforts without proven benefits to their bottom line. It remains to be seen whether Walmart’s (and other sizable companies such as Costco and Macy’s) initiatives have a noticeable impact on energy utility policies and business, but for now it seems the company is safe from greenwashing accusations.

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