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."Our company can take a lot of pride in [the fact] that we're building more attractive and more environmentally friendly stores with skylights and energy-saving features than we ever have in the history of our company," he said. "These stores will operate as laboratories, helping us to learn the best ways to use wind and solar power in our store designs or the best ways to use recycled materials in building our new stores."

Wal-Mart officials said the McKinney store may significantly change the way the retail industry designs, constructs and manages facilities as they relate to the environment.

"As the world's largest retailer, we are excited that we can lead the way in promoting the use of sustainable building and business practices in retail and the real-estate development process," Duke said.

Among the 26 eco-friendly features of the new store: a 120-foot wind turbine that harnesses energy and helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by the commercial production of electricity; an urban forest and wildflower meadow that provides beauty and shade as well as absorbs carbon dioxide and returns oxygen to the atmosphere; pavement systems that prevent runoff and flooding; rubber sidewalks made from recycled tires, and solar energy, waste recycling, lighting, climate control and water conservation programs.

"We want to make the best use of renewable and alternate sources like wind and solar energy to generate electricity to supplement the power needs of the store," said Don Moseley, experimental projects manager at Wal-Mart.

"The store in McKinney will draw its energy first from on-site resources and systems, and then from conventional utility sources as a secondary service," he said. "For example, the waste cooking oil which had been used to fry chicken will be recycled by mixing it with used automotive oil from the our Tire and Lube Express to serve as fuel to heat the building."

In April, Wal-Mart committed to give $35 million during the next 10 years to conserve at least an acre of priority wildlife habitat for each acre it develops in a program with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

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