By  on July 20, 2005

McKinney, Tex. — Wal-Mart is set to open an experimental Supercenter today that features sidewalks of recycled rubber, solar energy, an urban forest and a 120-foot windmill.

The 206,000-square-foot store here represents an effort by the company, which develops about 5,000 acres a year in the U.S. for retailing, to refute criticism of its environmental record.

"We see it as a next step in evaluating the impact we leave on the environment as we look toward smart growth and sustainability in the building of our new stores," said Mike Duke, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores USA.

"This store will contain many of the best resource conversion and sustainable design technologies currently available to minimize the use of energy and natural resources," he said.

The prototype will be one of only two operated by Wal-Mart. The second is under construction in Aurora, Colo., though no opening date has been set. Others will be rolled out as the concept is fine-tuned and formatted for specific geographic locales.

The world's largest retailer this year has embarked on a public relations campaign amid criticism and litigation about issues ranging from worker benefits to employee promotion policies. It has also faced accusations of circumventing environmental statutes regarding construction sediment and runoff from its parking lots into creeks and watersheds.

The Sierra Club, a conservation group battling big-box store development that has been vocal about Wal-Mart's environmental policies, was skeptical of the McKinney store.

"We've heard this before that Wal-Mart is going to be a model on the environment and that hasn't necessarily come to fruition," said Eric Olson, director of The Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl campaign.

"One store out of thousands does not make for an environmental champion," he said. "There's lots more that can be done, especially from a corporation that can leave such a huge footprint on the environment. We also need to look at Wal-Mart's record on environmental issues. Last year, it paid $3.1 million to settle clean water violations in nine states."

Wal-Mart's ceo, Lee Scott, addressed environmental issues at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in June.

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