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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

A big turkey to Sprawl-Mart

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 21, 2007

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Happy Thanksgiving!Most of us have things to be thankful for, and I hope Thanksgiving is as enjoyable as can be for all.  How did a day of thanks for the harvest turn into such a celebration of gluttony, anyway?  Isn’t it supposed to be about football?  ;)


Speaking of gluttony, you have no doubt noticed how everything in America has become super-sized, from meal portions to vehicles to houses to highways to big-box stores.  This is madness.  And it’s the big-box stores that I’m talking about today.


By now, perhaps you have also noticed the purported “greening” of Wal-Mart.  They certainly want you to, and you can expect an endless stream of press releases and feel-good commercials all pointing out how much good they are doing for the planet now.  Yeah, right.


It’s kind of like the scoundrel in town who is a murderer and a thief.  How much do you feel like celebrating when you get him to stop stealing things?  Sure, Wal-Mart is now into sustainable seafood and hybrid trucks.  Wal-Mart "supercenter," Ruston, LAThey are working on better packaging, reducing waste and energy consumption.  Now these are good things, and they are working with some great people on them, even including some of my favorite colleagues at NRDC.




Here’s what they are NOT doing:  they aren’t changing their basic business model, which wreaks havoc all over the countryside, sucks the life out of traditional small towns, generates huge amounts of automobile and truck traffic, and pretty much embodies sprawl at its worst.


A typical Wal-Mart “supercenter” occupies 210,000 square feet, thirty times the size of a Dollar General Store, and more than 60% larger than the typical Wal-Mart of just a decade ago.  Even worse, it is surrounded by a 20-acre-or-more parking lot.  Automobile dependent?  You think?  Reportedly, the company plans to build a thousand more of these over the next five years.


abandoned Wal-Mart, Hamilton, TNThat’s bad enough.  But it turns out that Wal-Marts have a short shelf life.  The company abandoned 107 stores in Texas alone in a seven-year period from 1997-2004, leaving huge crumbling eyesores behind as they moved farther out in the countryside to build their new supercenters.  Heck, they did just that in my own home town of Asheville, North Carolina, and the old site is still ugly and vacant. 


There were 110 stores slated for closing nationally in one recent year.  The big boxes become empty boxes.  How serious do you think they are about waste reduction now?


This isn’t green.  It’s a whiter shade of pale.  Turkeys.

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