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A 'green' spurt for US businesses?

Wal-Mart's new plan to pare energy costs by shifting to renewables could prompt other firms to follow its lead.

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Next time you're cooling off in a Wal-Mart store on a hot summer day, picture solar panels on the roof powering super-efficient air-conditioning equipment. Then multiply that picture a million times across the rooftops of corporate America.

It's a fresh vision of the nation's energy future that energy efficiency experts say is more likely now that US business finally has its bell cow - Wal-Mart - to lead the herd to greener energy pastures. Its new "green" plan, announced this week, seeks to get all of its energy from renewable sources.

Despite numerous lawsuits charging the retailing behemoth with environmental violations, some experts say it and other companies do appear interested in tapping energy efficiency to improve their bottom lines - not just their green image. It is move that could bring business and environmental interests closer together.

"We've had other businesses that understood energy efficiency as a key to fattening the bottom line - but now we've got Wal-Mart," says Neal Elliott, industrial program director for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy think tank in Washington. "Having the nation's biggest retailer on board is going to make a big difference in how much attention other companies pay to this issue."

While energy efficiency has not been a prime interest of American business since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s, a growing number of companies have been focusing on paring energy costs and reducing global warming.

Whole Foods Market based in California installed super-efficient appliances, solar power and lighting, and high- efficiency air-conditioning equipment in its stores. About 20 percent of the company's power is generated or purchased green power, according to its website.


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