“Wal-Mart can be a force for good.” Chris Cochran is a Senior Manager in Sustainability at Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville AR. “The biggest effect is that we save the average family $2,000 to $3,000 per year – whether you shop at Wal-Mart or not.” Chris is a steady spokesman for his company. “Wal-Mart can influence the entire industry. When Wal-Mart established a minimum $10 per hour wage, that will become the defacto minimum wage.” The thirty-year-old runner studied International Development and Finance at Johns Hopkins and ran a coffee plantation in Honduras. “Wal-Mart has three sustainability goads: 100% renewable power, zero waste, and sustainability produced products.” His earnest enthusiasm is contagious. “Wal-Mart already uses 25% renewable energy and we are on target to reducing waste by 50%.”
Wal-Mart entered the sustainability space, as techno-geeks like to say, in 2006. The decision was prompted by PR needs in response to bed press and lawsuits about their business and human resource practices. The company realized that it wasn’t just good press, it was good business. Last year Wal-Mart saved over $2 million through their recycling initiatives. Chris’ sustainability group is involved in the full spectrum of Wal-Mart decisions, from production to transportation to bricks and mortar stores to online growth.
Chris is particularly interested in agriculture. “Agriculture is the root of economic development. Economic development is the root of all international relationships.” A recent project centered around erecting tents over grape fields in the Sonoran desert. Producers increased their yield and reduced water.
Chris grew up in Searcy AR, son of a theology professor. He pulled away from his original church. “Like most religions it was too much about what not to do rather than what to do.” He has a penchant for action and believes in the power of big solutions. He believes that government, as well as big business, can be positive. “FDR’s first 100 days illustrate how the federal government can be a force for good. It counters the prevalent notion that government is bad. I feel that this election, we have torn at the fabric of our society. If everyone had the opportunity to visit the FDR library, it would affect their perspective. It might not change their minds, but it could.”
Die-hard environmentalists scoff at Wal-Marts sustainability initiative – people in Arkansas shouldn’t be eating Mexican grapes not matter how efficiently grown – and climate change deniers reject it from the other end of the spectrum. But if we are going to sustain seven or nine billion people on this planet, we’re not going to do it without large centralized organizations. In this country, that means big business. Wal-Mart is the biggest of the big businesses. Being more sustainable may not be enough to stem the tide of environmental degradation, but it’s the right direction.\
How will we live tomorrow?
“I work in sustainability. How will we feed nine billion people in 2050? We are already using 1.5 times the earth’s resources. And now people aren’t content with grain, they want milk and meat. Today, there are 800 million people who are undernourished. The inequality will create even more undernourished people.
“I like the movie, HER. There is a scene where everyone puts down their device and rediscovers each other. We will get to the point where we break through the noise of technology. We will seek contentment. We will decide that media is not free and pay to cut through the noise.”