Book Review: Force of Nature

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Humes, Edward. Force of nature : the unlikely story of Wal-Mart’s green revolution. HarperBusiness, 2011.

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year at the Whole Foods store on Broad Street in Durham.  In recent years, there are so many customers that they experience gridlock in the store.  An employee is posted outside the doors to prevent anyone from going in until another customer comes out.

Whole Foods is riding the wave of interest in sustainable products and organic food, which has become so popular that even conventional grocers  now offer organic alternatives.  Surprisingly, the largest seller of organic milk is Wal-Mart, a company that is not known for environmental sensitivity but should be, according to a new book by journalist Edward Humes.

Force of Nature is the story of how Wal-Mart, once one of the most unsustainable retailers on the planet decided to go green, not because it was the right thing to do, but because an energy efficient, low waste company enjoys a competitive advantage.   In addition to reducing Wal-Mart’s own energy use and waste, the company monitors packaging, water use and toxic substances in their suppliers, who are forced to be green to do business with the retailer.  Wal-Mart also develops partnerships with environmental groups and supports climate legislation.

The story begins in 2004, when Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, learns that 8% of its customer base had stopped shopping there because of the company’s bad reputation, including problems with local communities and the environment.  White-water expert and sustainability consultant Jib Ellison convinced CEO H. Lee Scott that Wal-Mart could boost their image and their profits by eliminating waste, because waste in packaging, shipping and the supply chain costs money.  Scott hired Ellison to transform the company.

Force of Nature is the inside story of how a gigantic corporation goes green.  This engaging and hopeful book is recommended to anyone interested in the environment.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Book Review: Force of Nature”

  1. Dave Connelly Says:

    “Unlikely” is an understatement. How long can Humes (and Wal-Mart customers) continue their myopia over this corporate “greenwashing”? While “Sprawl-Mart” forces suppliers into “greener” Chinese assembly lines, the corporation’s own business model continues to follow unsustainable patterns.
    Humes mentions deforestation in Indonesia, but not in America, where The Company clear-cuts acres of forested land with adjacent streams, then levels it to build a 100% impervious surface, including a parking lot big enough for Thanksgiving weekend. Next, it abandons that store and parking lot, and constructs an even larger store and parking lot nearby.
    Humes uncritically reprints Wal-Mart’s self-congratulatory truck fleet efficiency. But he forgets the fleet of thirsty, polluting, ocean-going tankers that deliver all the overseas goods to U.S. ports.
    These oversights are secondary to Wal-Mart’s core mission–to bully suppliers into making products so cheaply that they only last half as long. This prompts unquestioning customers to buy merchandise more often, thus increasing the waste that ends up in landfills. Not so green after all. Shoppers awake!

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