Wal-Mart Wants Cheap, Green Electronics

When Wal-Mart tells its suppliers to jump, they reply, “How high?” Now that the retail mega-giant is telling its product suppliers to start making their products more energy efficient, soon we’ll hear them ask “How green?” Come 2010, Wal-Mart will sell only Energy Star-rated air conditioners and all of their flat-panel televisions will have to get 30 percent more efficient then current models, CEO Lee Scott promised in a speech on Wednesday to the company.

This could really motivate large electronics makers like Philips to continue to invest in LEDs and push down the costs of their high-efficiency electronics. Smaller companies could cash in, too, like LED maker Cree who is helping to drive down the cost of next-gen lighting. If Wal-Mart has its way, technologies like these might be coming to a super center near you — sooner than you’d think.

The world’s largest retailer, which weathered a decade of corporate criticism with defensive posturing, is going on the offensive to improve its image and its bottom line with green, and that could mean greener electronics. Inertia is a powerful force, and now that Wal-Mart is moving, it could use its commercial heft to make changes in both consumer purchasing and industrial manufacturing.

In a soaring and at times bombastic bit of oratory, Scott addressed his store managers from Kansas City, Mo., laying out the company’s green objective:

“Our goal is to work with suppliers to make the most energy intensive products in our stores, anywhere in the world, 25% more energy efficient within three years.”

This is all good news for the planet, but what does it mean for the regular Joe customers that rely on Wal-Mart’s low prices? “We do not want our customers to have to choose between products they can afford and energy-efficient products,” Scott said. We’ll see. Wal-Mart, with its growing compact florescent light bulb sales, has shown that it can get consumers to buy more expensive products that will save them money in the long run. Maybe it can get its suppliers to make more energy-efficient products.

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