business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB reprinted in its entirety a letter sent by Peter Flaherty, the president of an organization called the “National Legal and Policy Center,” calling on Wal-Mart to abandon its environmental and sustainability initiatives on the premise that it costs too much money for a company that has in recent quarters has been underperforming. In addition, Flaherty suggested that legislation mandating the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would cost consumers money, which would give them less money to spend in Wal-Mart stores. And, he quoted John Coleman, a meteorologist and founder of The Weather Channel as being one of a number of scientists who believe that global warming is a scam.

I commented on the letter by calling it “utter nonsense,” and wrote, in part:

Wal-Mart’s policies and behavior when it comes to the environment and sustainability have been both prudent and informed, in my view. At a time when most scientists say that the earth is warming – and legitimate discussion can take pace about how and why – the company has decided to be part of the solution … For Wal-Mart, this has meant immediate investments that hopefully will have long-term payoffs. It means creating products such an energy efficient bulbs that fit these corporate priorities. It means setting out a challenge that goes beyond the short-term health of the balance sheet and developing both strategies and tactics that will make Wal-Mart truly a 21st century company … Wal-Mart’s revenue problems have little to do with its approach to sustainability.

I also suggested that the guys at NLPC seem to have no expertise in retailing (at least, none can be gleaned from their bios), and concluded:

There was only one thing that surprised me when I checked out the NLPC’s website: no mascot. Because I was sure that these guys would have one, that it would be an ostrich, with its head buried deep in the ground.

Of course, maybe I have that wrong. Maybe their heads aren’t buried in the ground…because they’re buried someplace else.

For at least one MNB user, this statement went over the line:

I think most people would agree with you that supermarkets need to be designed to be more energy efficient but your negative, rather unprofessional comments, telling everyone, that someone’s head is in the sand, is very typical of a name-calling liberal … Who is more believable, John Coleman, someone with some weather knowledge and credentials than someone who writes about the grocery business.

Stop predicting dire weather warnings stick to your grocery dot-com predictions and Tesco.

MNB user Paul Gunby wrote:

There is too much paranoia about so-called global warming. We are in a normal cycle.

And MNB user Scott Nelson wrote:

On November 7, meteorologist John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, called global warming ‘the greatest scam in history.’ Reflecting the views of many skeptics in the climate science community, Coleman said global warming was ‘a wild scenario’ created by ‘environmental extremists’ to advance their ‘radical agenda.’

John Colman is not the only one declaring that man made global warming is a hoax. The only consensus is that there is global warming and it is common sense that it is natural & cyclical and not man made. I remember learning about how large areas of the continental US were shaped by glaciers. They are thankfully gone now but it is not because of my SUV. I heard it said years ago that after Ronald Regan defeated the Soviet Union many communists and like-minded people found their way to the environmental movement. I am tired of hearing from Al Gore that “the sky is falling”!

Wait a minute.

Now people who are concerned about climate change are commies???????

Your homework for tonight is to go read a biography of Edward R. Murrow, or watch the DVD of “Good Night & Good Luck.” Because nothing good can happen if we’re going to go down that road again.

This would be a climate change that really is worrisome.

I actually think it is sort of funny that John Coleman has become the poster boy for the “global warming is a scam” community. Think about it for a moment. He’s a weatherman.

When was the last time you got accurate information from a weatherman? Most mornings I could flip a coin and do as well.

Okay, now that I’ve thoroughly ticked off the meteorologist demographic…here’s an interesting email from MNB user Louis A. Scudere:

I read with interest your article regarding Wal-Mart (as with most in the supermarket industry, not my favorite organization) and the preposterous statements made by Mr. Flaherty. I agree that it is unfortunate that the "hired guns" are out in force at this point trying to lull the public back to sleep after its attention was raised due to Al Gore's activities (I am not particularly a fan of his either).

Having said all that, I must admit I have kind of gone through somewhat of an epiphany recently regarding sustainability and renewable energy. Not because it will save the environment or stop global warming, (those who know me know I'm not a "tree hugger" by any stretch of the imagination (in fact I tend to be from the "pave it all and paint it green" school of real estate development) ) but, because it is very, very close to being at the point that it is good business and will gain a competitive operating advantage for those who adopt or adapt to it.

This whole thought process started while I was on vacation and was reading "The End of Oil" by Paul Roberts. While I thought in the beginning that he was being kind of strident in his opinions, as I drove around the Baja and saw solar panels next to almost every hovel and solar hot water heaters (50 gal black plastic jugs, crude but effective) on the roofs I began to realize how ignorant/complacent we as a country (or maybe its just me) have been regarding energy and how that ignorance has begun to erode our competitiveness in the global economy.

As I started to explore and expound upon alternative energy scenarios with colleagues in the industry, I discovered just how politically polarizing this issue is. Boy, have I been naïve. It’s truly too bad that the issue is so divisive as to cause individuals to be so short sighted in viewing renewable energy as solely limited to a so-called "liberal" climate change agenda. It is a shame because those that are in a position, and have the wherewithal, to capitalize on the potential development of an entirely new segment of the economy cannot at this point seem to get past their political prejudices to take advantage of the opportunities that are rapidly beginning to emerge. Opportunities that, I am convinced, have the potential to create the paradigm shift that this country so desperately needs. (think the transition from pay phones to cell phones) which could create good jobs in a less volatile global political environment. I am further becoming more convinced that if we as a country do not begin to get more energy self sufficient with a combination of conservation and renewable/alternative fuels we are rapidly lining up to become the next France or Great Britain, a mere shadow of our former greatness. Maybe not in our time, maybe not even in our children's time (inertia is a wonderful thing) but definitely in our grandchildren's time if things don't change.

As I listen to the rhetoric of the present presidential debates and the plethora of pundits in the media, I am further becoming convinced that this effort is going to have to come from the private sector as it appears that the leadership on both sides of the aisle is reluctant to propose any sweeping changes in energy policy beyond lip service. In the private sector, one thing that I think impedes progress in the area of energy is the fact that everyone is out there doing there own thing (Wal-Mart with their sustainability initiative, Costco going solar in SoCal, Safeway with their initiative, etc.). I am not an engineer but as I continue to research this topic I am convinced that there is a combination of solutions (load shedding (read conservation), solar power, stationary fuel cells, etc.) that will allow retailers to pull themselves off the grid and save significantly on operating costs over the life of a project. (My motive is selfish, the lower the operating expenses the more profitable the business the more profitable the business the easier to economically justify growth. Growth is what puts groceries on my table) In order to get to this point expeditiously, I think that the retail industry should consider banding together to create and endow an "Institute of Retail Energy Technology", the purpose of which would be to have a non-politically motivated entity evaluate from a retail operations perspective the myriad of combinations of renewable/alternative and/or conventional solutions manifesting themselves within the context of "life of project" perspective.

The potential outgrowth from this is an entirely new domestic segment of the economy concentrated in alternative/renewable energy solutions. This means a movement away from the "Service/Information" economy (which IMHO is a house of cards anyway built upon a foundation of consumer debt) to a more diverse economy with a viable manufacturing component that can take up the slack that we have lost in the last 25 years. This potentially means more good paying jobs, which stimulates demand and improves the potential for retail businesses to grow. It is not inconceivable that the next General Electric is going to manifest itself within the next 10-15 years if we can wake up to this potential.

Oh well, that's my rant for today, Maybe $100-per-barrel oil will wake someone up.

That’s one of the best emails I’ve ever read on the subject. And the notion of an Institute of Retail Energy is a great idea.

MNB user Don Reinke wrote:

I have been reading your “beat” for a few years and was never compelled to write until today…

I cannot understand how someone like a Peter Flaherty can get to a position of (some) prominence in this country. Your read on the situation is dead on! I am a manufacturer’s representative in the toy and hobby biz for some 30 years. The “Evil Empire,” as Wal-Mart is know in my circles, finally does something that I can endorse and this moron finds something wrong with the initiative. I am guessing that he lives in a parallel universe or something like that and he reminds me of the current resident of the White House!

And MNB user Jerry Cook wrote:

The last three lines in your commentary about the National Legal and Policy Center letter couldn’t have echoed my sentiments more concisely! Clearly, these people have no children, and if they do could care less about their future. It is appalling that anyone functioning with any semblance of a brain could write such a letter.

I don't think there is any question that the politicization of the climate change issue has created much of the polarization. If people don't like Al Gore, they don't trust his thesis. But I also think it is instructive that a number of conservative religious leaders have begun to address climate change as a moral and ethical imperative – a stance I tend to agree with. And when Al Gore, the religious right and Wal-Mart all find themselves on the same side of an issue…well, there’s something unusual happening. And I hope we can find a way past the politics of the issue.

Here’s my simplistic take on the issue. Oil is a non-renewable resource, and at some point the world is going to run out of it…so finding alternative energy sources and conserving what we have now simply makes sense. At the same time, we live in a society that for decades has been sending enormous amounts of crap (that’s the technical term) into the atmosphere, and it would be the height of arrogance to think that this won’t have any sort of impact on our planet…especially as the crap levels (again, I hate to use technical jargon) reach new highs as nations like India and China modernize. Therefore, it makes sense – socially, morally, ethically, economically, politically, fundamentally – to find ways to marry sophisticated and progressive approaches to these two issues. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be cheap…but the alternative will be legacy of negligence that will forever haunt our descendents.

This isn’t being a tree hugger. This isn’t being a radical. This isn’t being a liberal. This isn’t being a commie.

This is just trying to use common sense.

Sometimes I worry about crossing the line when it comes to making jokes. Such a day was yesterday, when I decided to make a joke after being informed that a new Whole Foods in California was offering roasted nuts. So it was with some relief that I got the following email from MNB user Jason Tuffli:

It is quotes like this - “I’m tempted to suggest that if the competitive wars get any hotter in California someone’s nuts are going to get roasted…but that would be in bad taste” - that keep me coming back to MNB everyday.

Thanks. It’s the opportunity to be a wisenheimer for a living that keeps me coming back, too.

KC's View: