Wal-Mart is well known for bringing extraordinary efficiencies to retailing and purchasing, and the company has rewritten the rules on supply chain management. So it should come as no surprise that as it lays the groundwork for its entry into New York City, Wal-Mart is proving itself to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of public relations as well.
Its latest urban crusade for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers rests with its teenagers and young adults. Wal-Mart's campaign is targeting the Internet generation's most pressing concern, the environment. But it has green anti-Wal-Mart activists vehemently calling it a "sham."
Wal-Mart yesterday promoted a variety of its so-called "eco-friendly" products at the MTV network's TRL store in Times Square that include miniature bottles of laundry detergent and lead-free laptops. MTV will also be delivering various on-air messages involving environmentally sound items sold at Wal-Mart in an effort to educate young people on sustainability — and other crunchy subjects.
The MTV/Wal-Mart partnership comes on the heals of a CBS/MTV poll taken earlier this year of 13- to 24-year-olds that concluded the environment is the biggest problem their generation will have to solve. Anti-Wal-Mart activists are arguing that between 2003 and 2005, state and federal environmental agencies slapped $5 million worth of fines against Wal-Mart. "The only ‘green' Wal-Mart executives care about is the money in their pockets," the coordinator of the advocacy group Wall-Mart Free NYC, Pat Purcell, said.
Wal-Mart is just one of the household names with a spotted environmental history campaigning on a green platform. General Electric, the company cited for dumping contaminated waste into the Hudson River, is also attempting to woo customers by promising eco-friendly business practices.
But Wal-Mart wants would-be environmental friends to know that its latest push isn't solely idealistic. In an example of environmental benefits provided by the vice president of business strategy and sustainability at Wal-Mart (yes, such a title exists at the company), Andrew Ruben, the retailer will save $7 million a year by using energy-efficient light bulbs in store ceiling fans.
Public relations have played a major part in Wal-Mart's efforts to quell criticism over its labor practices that include denying employees certain health benefits. In the past year the retailer has hired both a nun and an adviser to Bill Clinton to improve its image.
With criticism from elected officials and community groups, Wal-Mart has yet to make concrete inroads into the city. But a "green" campaign targeting the city's youth could garner even its nun's divine praises.