Obama Uses Walmart to Champion Renewable Energy Policies

Commercial Solar Farm


May 15, 2014

Although Walmart is still under scrutiny for allegedly mistreating workers and dismissing grievances from minimum wage activists, the little shop from Bentonville, Arkansas, is enjoying a day in the sun.

Last Friday, President Barack Obama chose the Walmart in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, to tout his environmental policies and renewable energy initiatives.

According to a 2013 Solar Energy Industries Association report, the world’s largest retailer has quietly become the top commercial solar-energy user in the U.S., producing more than 89 megawatts at 215 domestic locations.

That’s more than the combined solar energy production of 38 U.S. states. And the retailer is looking to double its solar energy activities at all of its U.S. stores and distribution centres by 2020.

Supporters of the president’s climate action policies welcomed his endorsement of Walmart’s clean energy initiatives. Yet critics of the megacorporation’s labour policies noted a conflict when it came to Obama’s own commitments to raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“President Obama will stand side by side with a company known for low wages, few benefits, unreliable hours, discrimination against women, violating workers’ rights, and yes, environmental degradation,” Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told the Wall Street Journal.

More bluntly, a former Labor Secretary to Bill Clinton railed against this “ill-advised photo opportunity” on Facebook, saying “Obama should use this opportunity not to praise Walmart but condemn it for its irresponsible labor practices.”

For all the debate surrounding his chosen platform, Obama stayed on message, bolstering Walmart as a model of progressive private-sector energy policy, in spite of the company’s history of leaning Republican.

“Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we still got some climate deniers who shout loud,” Obama said, “but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate.”

Bill Simon, the president and CEO of Walmart US, obliquely referenced this contradiction of political support, stating in Friday’s introductory statements, “You see, for us, renewable energy is not a political football; it’s a business decision.”