Recently, I began an effort to bring in organizations to support a campaign to get big box stores to put solar on roofs and parking lots. Going into it I knew Americans overwhelmingly supported solar energy. Solar is the most popular energy source out there, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. What I didn’t foresee was the extent to which a corporate campaign with a singular target could enlist broad support from a diverse group of organizations. But that’s what happened when Environment America Research & Policy Center launched an initiative to get the retail giant Walmart to put solar panels on all of its viable roofs and parking lots by 2035.
For example, a Southern conservation group, an Idaho-based nuclear watchdog and an international environmental advocacy giant don’t seem to have a lot in common at first glance. However, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, the Snake River Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council all joined our effort. Their presence on a sign-on letter calling on Walmart to act ― alongside 150 additional organizations that span the environmental spectrum ― illustrates that this campaign clearly has broad appeal.
When it came to the sign-on letter, there were certain groups that were a clear fit. It made sense that the American Solar Energy Society and Solar United Neighbors would join on: “Solar” is right there in the names! That said, I didn’t anticipate the level of interest by groups who weren’t directly lobbying for more solar energy. But, clearly, if Walmart were to fully utilize its space for solar, groups see it as a huge win-win for everyone.
Walmart is the United States’ largest retailer and biggest employer. According to a 2016 report, the company could generate 5,844 megawatts of solar capacity, enough to repower 660,000 average American homes with clean renewable energy. Among the many positives Walmart could bring to the table by embracing our efforts: Rooftop solar is good for the grid and electricity consumers and it significantly reduces energy losses from transmission. Beyond that, Walmart – and any big box store that went solar – would benefit from reduced electricity bills. Per the report, “electricity produced by rooftop panels on the nation’s big box stores and shopping centers could offset the annual electricity use of these buildings by 42 percent, saving these businesses $8.2 billion annually on their electricity bills.”
Along with these groups generally being committed to a variety of issues (from clean energy and conservation to social justice), those who signed on also reflected a diverse geography. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia are represented on the letter. These range from such highly populated states as New York and Texas to sparser locales like Iowa and Maine. There are bright red states like Wyoming and Indiana, deep blue states like Oregon and Illinois, and states in between like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The biggest takeaway from the letter’s participants is that ourSolar on Superstores campaign has broad appeal. Big box stores are common in the U.S. ― 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart location. But even the 10% of the population not in proximity to the world’s largest retailer would benefit from the company committing to on-site solar energy at all of its stores through reduced global warming emissions that will come from replacing fossil fuels with solar energy. The coalition of groups supporting our campaign recognizes that. You can add your voice to the cause by signing our petition to Walmart.