What's Bringing President Obama To Walmart?

It’s not the everyday low prices. No, not even professional family photos with Bo and Sunny. It’s about businesses making smart decisions about energy.

Today, the President will visit Mountain View, California’s Walmart to announce big news for solar power and energy efficiency. Walmart is already a commercial leader in solar installations, but is committing to double the number of panels on its store roofs in the next six years, harnessing 7 million GWh of clean energy by 2020. But not just Walmart thinks solar power is great idea. Today the President is announcing 300 private and sector commitments to advance solar deployment, representing 850 MW of electricity, enough to power 130,000 homes. The industry is growing at breakneck speed, and President Obama is directing his Administration to ensure the American workforce can keep up the momentum.

Since Obama took office, the U.S. had just 1.2 GW of solar capacity; today that number stands at a whopping 13 GW. That’s enough to power 2 million American homes. Not to mention, that’s 2 million fewer homes we have to power to polluting coal or natural gas.  The industry boasted more than 140,000 jobs in 2013, a 20% increase since the previous year. So what’s next for solar?

Clean Energy 101: The President will direct the Department of Energy to invest in community colleges in 49 states to prepare 50,000 students to enter the solar industry by 2020. Solar energy- whether its photovoltaic or thermal- is not only complex, but is becoming increasingly specialized as new technologies hit the market. From the 1,700 acre concentrated solar plant (CSP) in California to a 10’ x 10’ pair of photovoltaic panels on a rooftop in New Jersey, the growth of solar in the coming years will demand a diverse, skilled workforce. By developing the Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network, more Americans will have the exciting opportunity to be a part of the clean energy economy.

Sustainable Housing: The DoE and Department of Housing and Urban Development will partner to advance education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to bolster energy literacy and employment in low-income communities and public housing projects across the country.

Clarity and Consistency in the Tax Code: The DOE will be releasing an updated and revised Guide to Federal Financing for Clean Energy. This excellent tool assists Americans to identify energy efficiency and renewable financing programs in Federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Treasury and Environmental Protection Agency.

NRDC looks forward to being a part of the solar industry’s rapid growth. Last fall, we launched our Solar Schools program, an innovative way for communities from North Carolina to California to crowdfund solar projects on their local schools. To learn more, read NRDC Director of Renewable Policy Nathanael Greene’s blog on this exciting project. Our affiliate organization, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), is tracking the growth in the clean energy economy, noting where companies are hiring new workers to help manufacture solar panels and install PV systems on roofs. To see where solar is hiring in your state, please visit Last year, E2 tracked more than 21,600 jobs announcements in solar generation alone!

But wait! Solar is just one of the President's exciting announcements today. Mr. Obama is also setting exciting new energy efficiency standards, that together with other efficiency standards that his administration has issued, will save a whopping 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution through 2030. To get the inside scoop from an expert, check out my colleague Kit Kennedy's blog on how new efficiency standards will save our economy billions in the coming decade.

Our 100% clean energy future is on the horizon, let’s join our President and support its continued progress.

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A Day Worth Bookmarking for One Elementary Library

As an elementary school librarian, I have the unique opportunity to directly impact 300 students, every week.

So I’ve worked hard to turn my library into much more than a place to simply check out books. It’s a space for hands-on exploration, discovery and – more than anything – fun.

A few weeks ago, that meant getting out tubs of colored pencils, markers and stacks of paper to map the various Native American tribes one grade was learning about. There was even quite a bit of excitement around the thought of creating our own “maker space” – an endless collection of buttons, bags, cans, string, magnets, glue, cardboard and other materials students can build and tinker with. This hands-on space could serve as a vehicle for generating conversations around their ideas.

But, with paper, pencils, staples, books and other core supplies already accounting for so much of our library’s limited budget, money is a significant hurdle. And I’m not alone.

On average, teachers spend $490 of their own money to buy school supplies for their classrooms. So I was in absolute shock when someone from Walmart walked into my library. Walmart tallied votes from parents and students across the nation and – as part of its recent Commander in Teach(ers) program – surprised 20 teachers with gift cards for $490 to help with school supplies.

I felt like I was floating on air as I looked at all of the students. I knew what this gift was going to mean for them. I’ve already used the card to purchase some basic supplies and some new books I knew our students would be excited about. But it also gives me a little more freedom to think outside the box. That maker space idea is a whole lot closer to becoming reality.

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How Acres for America is Maintaining the Majestic Midwest

For generations, Midwesterners have retreated to the Arcadia Dunes preserve – an oasis along Lake Michigan – to connect with nature, climb the sand peaks and take in the enormity of America’s third-largest lake.

The 3,600-acre property, also known as the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, offers public access to one of the largest remaining natural areas along Lake Michigan. There, visitors can partake in some of the Midwest’s best opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, birding and snowshoeing.

Back in 2003, the property’s owners planned to develop the land into a golf-course community with hundreds of homes and condominiums.

“That would have had a domino effect,” said Glen Chown, longtime executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which owns and manages the property. “The development would have led to hundreds of additional homes nearby. Farming would have most likely been pushed out. There would be no public access anywhere.”

The conservancy led a massive campaign to raise more than $30 million to acquire Arcadia Dunes and secure conservation easements on other nearby properties. People rallied to the cause.

Through a combination of gifts large and small, the conservancy and its conservation partners raised nearly all of the required funds. To close the last gap, the conservancy applied for and in 2006 was awarded a $500,000 grant from Acres for America, a collaboration between Walmart and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“The Acres for America grant helped us at a time when we had pretty much exhausted every opportunity,” Chown said. “Acres was our closer.”

Acres for America began in 2005, when Walmart made its first commitment of $35 million to purchase and preserve one acre of wildlife habitat in the United States for every acre of land developed by the company – approximately 100,000 acres as of today. The Arcadia Dunes project was one of the program’s earliest grants.

Ten years after the Arcadia Dunes grant was awarded, Acres for America has far surpassed its original goal with more than 1 million acres protected – an area comparable in size to Grand Canyon National Park. In November 2015, Walmart and NFWF announced a 10-year, $35 million renewal of the program.

By offsetting the land Walmart needs to operate with far more valuable land – both to wildlife and to people – the Acres for America program is making a real difference in the quality of life for local communities across the nation.

The preservation of places such as Arcadia Dunes show why Acres for America has become one of the most successful public-private conservation efforts in American history.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Cleaner Stores, Higher Sales and Purveyor of Fine Mangoes

ICYMI: Cleaner stores and higher sales … it’s definitely no Vudu. However, all of these are in the news this week, along with retail’s most marvelous mangoes, Chef Robert Irvine’s delicious new dishes and a new focus on food safety.

Cleaner. Faster. Friendlier.

I mentioned our training academies a couple of weeks ago, as well as how they were a part of a larger investment in our workforce. A $2.7 billion investment, to be exact. New York Times reporter Neil Irwin mentioned it as well this week in this article about how that investment is starting to show positive returns. The wage aspect of Walmart’s commitment to its associates has gotten a fair amount of conversation, but equally important are the training and education components. If our associates know how to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, they’ll be able to provide the best customer service possible. I hope you’re noticing these changes in your local stores, too!

A New Brand of Celebrity Sidekicks

What do celebrity chef Robert Irvine and your parents have in common? They both want you to eat your veggies, bub! Signature Sidekicks is Irvine’s line of four fresh-cut vegetable dishes that are available exclusively at Walmart. Pop into your store and pick up a bag of Garlic Balsamic Broccoli, Sesame Ginger Stir Fry, Braised Collard Greens, or Provencal Ratatouille. (Speaking of Sidekicks, do you remember the Sidekick, the precursor to today’s smart phones?)

A Step Forward for Food Safety

On Wednesday, we launched the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center in Beijing. The center is part of a $25 million investment over the next five years for food safety research in China. And that’s not the only news from China: Doug McMillon sat down with Bloomberg News to discuss a range of other things happening.

It’s an Honor Just to be Nominated

But it’s even better when you win 2016 Mango Retailer of the Year! We have so many people to thank: Our associates that put mangoes on our shelves, our customers that keep coming back to buy mangoes, the farmers that grow these delicious fruits … Oh no, they’re playing the “hurry up and finish” music, so go watch this video on how to slice the mango you just bought.

Now Playing on Your TV

Vudu Movies on Us lets you stream thousands of movies and TV shows for free with limited commercials. If you haven’t checked out the lineup, there’s some pretty good stuff: True Grit, School of Rock, Mad Max, and Point Break. Sounds like your weekend plans are set.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Malibu Comes to Arkansas, and a Birth Story Worth Checking Out

ICYMI: Rum, a new baby, a lost locket and pumpkins a-plenty. Oh, and the largest single-day health event in America. It’s an odd list with one thing in common – it’s all news in the world of Walmart this week.

If You Like Pina Coladas…

Arkansas got a bit more tropical this week when Pernod Ricard began bottling Malibu Rum at its plant in Fort Smith. This reshoring effort will bring an additional 6,000 man hours to the plant over the next year, which translates into more hours for existing workers and additional seasonal and full-time employment. An estimated 150,000 cases will be bottled in the plant that also produces Kahlua Liqueur, Seagram's Gin and Smithworks Vodka. Cheers!

Price Check on Bouncing Baby Boy

On Sunday morning, our Payson, Utah, store inadvertently hosted a reenactment of the 2000 film “Where the Heart Is” when customer Cecelia Rivas went into labor when she was checking out. Customers and associates helped Cecelia deliver baby Matias right there at the cash register. Mom and baby are doing well, and the store will be welcoming them back for a proper baby shower soon.

More Wellness for Your Weekend

This Saturday, October 15, every Walmart store in the U.S. will be hosting Walmart Wellness Day, the largest single-day health fair in the country. From noon to 4 p.m., local time, you can get free blood glucose, blood pressure, vision screenings (where available), product samples and information on health insurance options. We’ll have lots of companies in store handing out free samples, from Dannon to Johnson & Johnson. And since no exciting Saturday is complete without a round of shots, we’re also offering low-cost immunizations.

Lost, But Found

Tampa associate Pamela Martini made it a personal mission to reunite a heart-shaped locket she found in her store with its rightful owner. Customers lose lots of items in our stores, but Pamela knew that this piece of jewelry was different; it had a man’s name and two dates engraved on it, and the inside contained ashes. She searched online, posted to Facebook, talked to customers, and even reached out to her local news station. Her determinedness paid off when she was able to reunite the locket with the woman who owned it.

It’s the Great Pumpkin … Farmer!

Sarah Frey has been supplying Walmart with pumpkins for about 20 years. She got her start with us when she was still a teenager helping out the family farm. Her business has grown from 80 acres to about 15,000, and she’s expanding beyond the bright orange gourds you pick up for Jack-O-Lanterns. Sarah is introducing Pumpkins of the World, exotic pumpkins aimed at cooks. We’re all familiar with the canned pumpkin used for Thanksgiving pie, but have you heard of Jarrahdales or Chioggias? No, we didn’t make those up, but they could be the next big food trend. Fun fact: Did you know that the pumpkins you carve up for Halloween are known as “jacks”? Store that one away for your next trivia night.

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