Wal-Mart Plans to Take Leadership Role in Energy, Trade, Health Care

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New York City Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which launched a broad environmental push in late 2005, wants to expand that focus to other issues including energy prices, international trade and U.S. health-care costs.

Chief executive Lee Scott outlined plans in a speech Wednesday to push for more energy-saving products for Wal-Mart shoppers, work with other retailers on social and environmental standards for the foreign companies they buy from, and trim prescription and health-records costs at home. He spoke before about 7,000 Wal-Mart store managers in Kansas City, where the company holds a convention center meeting at the start of every year to look at new products and sales plans for the year ahead.

Scott said the effort follows on goals he set in 2005 that started Wal-Mart's current drive to use less energy in its stores, cut down solid waste from things such as packaging and sell more environmentally friendly products.

Scott laid out three areas for Wal-Mart's attention. He said rising energy costs are hurting Wal-Mart customers, so the retailer will work with its suppliers to offer more energy-saving products. A Wal-Mart statement said this would include making its most energy-intensive products, such as computers, microwaves and water heaters, 25% more efficient within three years. It will also seek to cut power use by the flat-screen televisions it sells by 30% by 2010.

In the second area of attention, Wal-Mart will launch an effort with other major retailers to improve social, ethical and environmental standards among its global suppliers. The chain will work with the international retail body CIES to come up with those standards and find a way to share joint auditing of foreign factories, which now are visited by inspectors from many individual customers.

In the third area of attention, U.S. health care, Scott said Wal-Mart can help drive down the costs of prescriptions beyond the $4 generic drugs it has introduced. The retailer will contract with "select employers" to help them manage their employee prescription claims and processing.

It will also work with doctors to increase the number of electronic prescriptions, which it said would save costs compared to paper records, and introduce electronic health records for all its U.S. employees and retirees by the end of 2010.