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PR Effort Promises $35 Million for Wildlife Conservation

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Embroiled in a nasty battle with organized labor and environmental groups, Wal-Mart has launched an ad campaign to run through April 24 that includes idyllic images of eagles in flight to promote “Acres for America,” a program to preserve one acre of land for every acre occupied by a Wal-Mart store.
Wal-Mart's latest TV ad features stunning photos of wildlife in natural habitat.

The program is a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and will preserve 88,000 acres and an additional 100,000 acres over the next five years. The NFWF said the acreage translates into a $35 million commitment.

Bolstering its green image
An attempt at bolstering the retailer’s green image –- soiled by dozens of contentious site fights with community groups nationwide –- environmental groups immediately criticized the campaign, created by Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo. Wal-Mart bought ad time for the spots on CNN and MSNBC.

“We want to see the nuts and bolts of the plan. I think that it would be more important to see a substantive plan than a full-page photoshopped eagle talking about Wal-Mart’s environmental plans,” said Chuck Porcari, communications director at the Washington-based League of Conservation Voters. “Words and actions are two very different things. We are anxious to see the substance of the program.”

The Sierra Club, after seeing a print ad in The Washington Post and dozens of other newspapers nationwide, immediately sent out a press release with the headline: “Wal-Mart tries to paint itself green.”

Sierra Club response
“Wal-Mart has an image problem and they are trying to repair that with a massive public relations campaign,” said Eric Olson, a representative for Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl campaign, which launched in the late ‘90s. “Their whole record shows a corporation that is not a good citizen toward the environment. They are spending an awful lot of money to create an image, a warm and fuzzy image. This isn’t about substance but creating the false image that they care.”

In its release, the Sierra Club claimed Wal-Mart has agreed to spend more than $8.5 million in civil penalties and settlement costs since 2001, including a $3.1 million civil penalty less than a year ago to settle numerous violations of the federal Clean Water Act at sites across nine states.

A 'new model for conservation'
In Wal-Mart’s press release announcing the program, though, the retailer promoted the effort as one of the largest ever public-private partnerships that “sets a new model for conservation in the United States.” The release went further, saying: “Today’s partnership demonstrates that Wal-Mart is setting out to build its reputation on more than just low prices.”

The NFWF approached Wal-Mart last year with the land conservation idea. “They were quick to say yes and Wal-Mart’s leadership is raising the bar in conservation,” John Berry, executive director of the NFWF, said in the release.

The NFWF is a nonprofit organization that was established by Congress in 1984. The foundation's stated goals are to promote healthy populations of fish, wildlife and plants by generating new commerce for conservation through partnerships between public and private sectors. The foundation said it does not support lobbying, political advocacy or litigation.

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