New Sears CEO Thinks "America is Overregulated"
by Judy Kent
Hoffman Estates, IL/Washington, DC - New Sears CEO Edward Lampert seemed stunned when questioned about Sears' leading role in the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), a trade association that is promoting mandatory "sustainability" standards for its members.
Yesterday, at the annual meeting of Sears shareholders in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Horace Cooper of the National Center for Public Policy Research asked Mr. Lampert where Sears' management stands on the question of its trade association imposing sustainability standards on its members, including Sears.
Cooper asked, in part, "Does management support the idea of RILA imposing sustainability standards on its members, or is it opposing mandatory sustainability standards and standing up for the right of each retailer to make its own decisions regarding the best way for each individual retailer to lawfully satisfy the needs of its customers?"
Lampert did not answer the question directly, but seemed unequivocally opposed to mandatory standards, saying that customers ought to be the driving force behind any standards, and that America needs to be a voluntary society.
"Personally, " Lambert told Cooper, "don't like coercive solutions. I think America is overregulated." He repeated that sentence for emphasis.
Lampert, Sears' largest stockholder who became CEO of Sears just recently after serving as chairman, seemed unaware of Sears' role in RILA, even saying at one point, "I have no idea what RILA is."
Sears held a position on the RILA board of directors as recently as January. It was filled by then-CEO Lou D'Ambrosio, who left the company this month.
"I am encouraged to see that Mr. Lambert seems to appreciate the true role of business in a capitalist society: to lawfully deliver the best products at the lowest price. This, not high-sounding words like 'sustainability,' is the route to prosperity," said Cooper.
"Companies like Sears are a critical part of the American workforce," Cooper added. "They announced today that they're going to be selling 65 million different items. This has major implications for the American supply chain. Therefore, it's crucial that instead of wasting resources on unpopular and unproductive sustainability measures, Sears ought to be taking the lead on encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity with small businesses."
Sears is a member of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), one of the country's largest trade organizations. RILA's latest contribution to green advocacy is a massive effort to impose "sustainability" standards on member companies. To adhere to these new environmental rules, RILA calls on its member companies to undertake expensive capital expenditures, restrict the use of the property they own as well as lobby local governments for more restrictive building codes that would apply to all members of the community, not just RILA members.
Additionally, RILA is advocating member businesses follow a top-to-bottom sustainability plan that will adversely affect manufacturers and suppliers. It is likely that this particular aspect of RILA's sustainability scheme will entail costly changes to manufacturing standards that will impede small businesses and raise the cost of consumer products.
To learn more about RILA's sustainability push from its perspective, read here.
"As of now, RILA's sustainability standards are voluntary. However, it appears they are poised to make these costly standards mandatory for all its corporate members," said Cooper. "If mandated, these sustainability standards could create a new monopoly whereby large retailers - using their buying leverage - raise costs to suppliers and consumers to fuel this ideological agenda."
Sears' website discusses the company's sustainability efforts in part by saying: "We accomplish [these sustainability goals] with the help of our vendors (who provide products that fit this criteria), merchants (who choose products that fit this criteria), and partners (who help determine which products fit this criteria)."
Cooper also presented Lampert with the results of a nationwide survey commissioned by the National Center that clearly shows American consumers want no part of this extreme environmental agenda.
More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed indicated that they would not be willing to spend a single penny more for retail products so that retailers could meet sustainability standards. And, notably, only 3 percent of respondents were willing to spend up to ten percent more on commonly purchased retail items so they could be labeled as sustainable.
The poll was conducted January 10-13 by The Polling Company, Inc., which surveyed 1,000 adults. The poll has of margin of error of 3.1 percent.
"The free market, if left alone, already dictates cost-saving environmental measures such as reducing packaging weight to lower shipping costs," said National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. "Companies do not need mandates to require them to do things that permit them to sell quality products to consumers at the lowest possible price."
Earlier this year, the National Center presented this issue to corporate leaders at Costco, Apple and Walgreens.
A copy of Horace Cooper's question at the shareholder meeting, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
The National Center for Public Policy Research is a Sears shareholder.