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Wal-Mart's New CEO: What Does it Mean for Green?

The surprise announcement today that Lee Scott will be stepping down as CEO of the retail behemoth made waves in the media. How will his replacement, Mike Duke, address the company's environmental ambitions?

The news from left field today is that Wal-Mart's CEO for the last nine years, Lee Scott, has announced plans to retire. Mike Duke, who is currently the head of the company's international operations, will take over as CEO on Feb. 1.

Lee Scott has presided over an epoch at Wal-Mart, one most notable for GreenBiz readers as beginning the company's transition from just another (enormous) big-box retailer to arguably one of the leaders in the world of green business.

Under Scott's leadership, Wal-Mart has undertaken green initiatives large and small. Among the notable examples are its Personal Sustainability Projects, which aimed at engaging every Wal-Mart employee to affect change from within; purchasing requirements that push forward innovation in green products, like the company's decree that it would only sell concentrated liquid laundry detergents; and its Packaging Scorecard, which supporters say will singlehandedly bring greener product packaging to mainstream suppliers (and which already resulted in a Hewlett Packard laptop that uses 97 percent less packaging than previous products.

Among the Wal-Mart announcements we've covered in recent months are a commitment to reduce plastic bag use by 33 percent in each story by 2013; a wide-ranging energy efficiency program at Wal-Mart Canada stores; new supply-chain transparency for some of its jewelry products; and a commitment to sell more locally grown produce in its stores.

Duke comes to the head of the company from its international operations, an area that analysts say is going to play a large role in Wal-Mart's future growth, as well as the areas that Wal-Mart must focus on to improve the environmental performance of its products and suppliers.

At the company's sustainability summit in China last month, where Lee Scott laid out strict new environmental standards for Chinese suppliers, Mike Duke is quoted as saying:
Wal-Mart and our supplier partners must operate in a more socially and environmentally responsible way wherever we do business. ... We at Wal-Mart are also committed to being a leader on sustainability.
In a short post on the transition, Forbes indicates that Duke is on the executive board of the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, a group convened by Conservation International and Ford to bring business interests to the table in working toward environmental goals.

Granted, Wal-Mart is a huge ship and not likely to reverse course on a dime; but given global concern over the economy, changing out the c-suite at one of the world's most powerful companies is something to follow.

If you've got thoughts or opinions about how Scott's resignation will affect green and not-so-green businesses around the world, let us know in the comments below.

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