Wal-Mart places new focus on sustainable electronics

"Scorecard" to be introduced in 2008 assesses the environmental friendliness of gadgets sold in Wal-Mart stores.
Written by Caroline McCarthy, Contributor
Wal-Mart announced on Tuesday a new campaign to raise awareness of sustainable consumer electronics sold in its ubiquitous discount stores.

Beginning in 2008, Wal-Mart will introduce a "scorecard" to provide statistics on the eco-friendliness of its electronics products, with criteria that include energy efficiency, durability, the amount of packaging, potential for recycling, and levels of hazardous substances. Electronics suppliers will be asked to fill out this scorecard, which will then be made available to Wal-Mart customers.

Wal-Mart's announcement came as part of the "Take It Back" conference held this week in Annapolis, Md. The conference focused on environmental responsibility and recycling issues for product manufacturers.

"The scorecard encourages improvements that are good for business as well as for the environment," said Ross Farnsworth, divisional merchandise manager of home electronics for Wal-Mart, in his keynote speech at the Take It Back event, "reflecting Wal-Mart's view that being a profitable and efficient business goes hand in hand with being a good steward to the environment."

In an attempt to reshape its image to fit a more environmentally conscious mold, Wal-Mart has initiated a number of green-tech efforts. Late last year, for instance, the company put out a request for proposals to suppliers to install solar panels at its stores, but it has not yet made a decision on a purchase.

But Wal-Mart has other environmental initiatives in the works, too: among them are promotions of energy-conserving compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and electronics waste recycling days at its stores around the country. As part of its electronics scorecard program, the chain will also be sponsoring a design contest, in conjunction with the nonprofit Green Electronics Council, for the development of a new sustainable electronics product that implements its scorecard metrics.

The store chain, virtually synonymous with middle America, has been aiming for a more tech-savvy image in addition to a green-savvy one. In the past few months, it has taken steps to improve its Web infrastructure thanks to a partnership with Microsoft and Novell, instituted a store pickup program for online orders, and explored the growing digital movie download market.

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