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Why is Wal-Mart lobbying against carbon-offset guidelines?

Why is the mega-retailer so afraid of having offsets defined?

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / August 7, 2008

The front of a Wal-Mart Store in Clearwater, Fla.

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Wal-Mart has been taking many major steps go green in recent years. The mega-retailer has taken steps to assess the carbon footprint of some of its products, and it has become the largest buyer of organic cotton and of locally grown produce. It has been pushing suppliers to reduce packaging and has even introduced biodegradable containers for some of its products. It has boosted the fuel-efficiency on its truck fleet, one of the world's largest, and has built super-energy-efficient stores. It has promoted sustainable fisheries and even tried to green its jewelry.

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Most remarkably, in October 2005 the Wal-Mart's CEO, Lee Scott, announced that the company's goal is to transform itself into one that runs on 100 percent renewable energy and produces zero waste.

Now you can chalk all this up to public relations, but, as environmental writer David Roberts once pointed out, all these steps seem to go way beyond what's required for a successful greenwashing campaign. They could have just taken out a few ads in Outside and called it a day. I think Wal-Mart's execs are, in some sense, genuinely committed to the environment, even if it's just because they've discovered that being less wasteful saves money.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across Wal-Mart's comment on the Federal Trade Commission's attempts to standardize carbon offsets.

The FTC is attempting to update its Green Guides, which outline the rules for companies' environmental claims about their products. These are the guidelines that say that you can't label a paper bag "reuseable" if it falls apart on the third use, that you can't call a plastic container "recyclable" if facilities for recycling that type of plastic are not available for most people, that you can't call a pesticide "non-toxic" if it will arguably damage people's health, and so on.

For this update, the FTC seeks to issue guidelines about claims that a company's (or product's) carbon emissions have been offset – that is, that the gases emitted are made up for by putting money toward a project, such as a forest or a wind farm, that keeps an equivalent amount out of the atmosphere.

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