Nothing seems to bring out the hankies like a Walmart locating near, but not in, Orange County. The local glass-one-tenth-full crowd cranks up their righteous indignation machine. These self-proclaimed financial “realists” can’t see past the tax revenue to begin to understand that everything comes with a price and that price eventually gets translated into the only measurement they seem to understand – actual monetary costs.

Walmart’s public relations department has been on the green warpath. The news is that their new stores are energy efficient, they have a goal of running on 100% renewable energy, they have waste reduction programs, and they sell organic food.

So what’s the bottom line? Is Walmart a corporation that has seen the light and is now operating sustainably, enhancing the lives of its employees, fueling authentic organic agriculture, and extending these benefits to its international partners?

Walmart made $26.6 billion in profit last year. When asked why only 2% of their power consumption comes from renewables, they say that renewables are too expensive. Even with their snail-like progress toward renewables, the total greenhouse gas emissions form Walmart’s operations rose 14% from 2005 to 2010.

Cheap (sorry, I meant to say inexpensive) products do not come without a cost on the solid waste side. Low quality products with short durability become a burden on local landfills and solid waste programs. They can recycle all the cardboard they want but the end result is that goods designed to be cheap and essentially disposable will cost local governments more than they save.

Despite Walmart’s claims to be supportive of sustainable agriculture, local farms are not the beneficiaries. They utilize large corporate agri-businesses that benefit from perverse definitions and standards relating to organic farming.

Here’s a telling factoid. You’d expect a company that flogs us with their dedication to sustainability to put their political money where their public relations mouth is, right? I know you’ll be shocked to know that, according to a study by the League of Conservation Voters (we’re not talking Earth First here), Walmart has bribed (sorry, I mean supported) anti-environmental lawmakers with 60% of their $3.9 billion political war chest.

But what if you took the perspective that we in Orange County don’t support those values and could take the sales tax revenue and counteract those aspects with our high-minded policies? We’d be providing jobs, helping our school system, and better meeting the needs of our citizens.

Well, here’s a kick in the teeth of the “realistic” economists. Social Science Quarterly, a hundred year old journal of respected research, published a study that determined that communities with Walmart stores end up with more poverty and a greater use of food stamps.

Our local big-box economic development devotees generally tout our commitment to sustainability and good jobs. Yet they also support a tax- generating Walmart in Orange County, which reminds of the old George Bernard Shaw story.
He told a woman at a party that everyone had their price and asked if she would sleep with him for a million pounds. “Maybe for a million”, she said. He responded by asking if she would do the same for ten shillings. She indignantly responded, “Do you take me for a common prostitute?” Shaw replied, “That has already been established. Now we are just bickering over the price.”