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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) is asking computer makers to shorten the default time it takes for their laptops and PCs to lapse into sleep mode as part of the retailer's effort to sell products that are more environmentally friendly, a Wal-Mart executive said on Wednesday.
Computers enter sleep mode, which cuts down on power consumption, when the gadgets are left unused for a period of time.
Now, the world's largest retailer is pushing manufacturers to shorten the time it takes before computers go into sleep mode in their default settings, Andrea Thomas, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of sustainability, told the Reuters Retail and Consumer Summit.
The switch is part of the company's efforts to sell products that sustain people and the environment. For Wal-Mart, making such changes can help it quietly improve energy efficiency for shoppers who often are not willing to pay more for "green" products.
"In general our customers are really much more focused on budget and saving money," Thomas said. "They are not willing at this time to pay a premium for sustainability."
Initial estimates show Walmart customers could potentially save up to $10 million on energy bills and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy by 100,000 metric tons over the lifetime of their computers if energy saving features were significantly improved on computers sold at Walmart U.S. stores over the next two years, the company said.
"We've really been trying to focus on things that we can do that can provide a benefit but that won't cost our customer more because that's not something we believe that they'll pay for," Thomas said.
Wal-Mart began its major push to become more environmentally friendly as it was trying to burnish its image in the face of criticism over a myriad of issues including low wages and the impact its large stores have on their surrounding communities.
Wal-Mart has partnered with outside groups as part of that push. It is a member of the Sustainability Consortium, which includes suppliers such as Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N), as well as groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under a sustainability index Wal-Mart is initially rolling out on 100 categories of goods, companies can see how their environmental practices rank against those of competitors. Also, the employees who make purchasing decisions for Wal-Mart can use the findings to evaluate products.
Wal-Mart is also making its own energy and cost-cutting changes. It is set to have solar panels on up to 200 of its buildings by the end of 2012 and continues to test using alternative fuels and making other modifications to its trucks.
On Thursday, Wal-Mart plans to announce its largest solar installation yet. The Buckeye, Arizona, distribution center, near Phoenix, will include 14,000 solar panels on its roof and parking canopies that should produce up to 30 percent of the energy it needs to operate.
The solar panels at the Buckeye distribution center alone will generate up to 5.3 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year, or the equivalent of powering more than 400 homes and taking about 600 cars off the road, Wal-Mart said.
Under requirements from EnergyStar, a program from the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, a computer's default should be for a monitor to go into sleep mode within 15 minutes of no activity, while a computer system should enter sleep mode after 30 minutes.
Wal-Mart is asking manufacturers, where possible, to make sleep modes begin after 5 minutes of inactivity for displays, and after 10 minutes of inactivity for systems. Such recommendations are open for discussion with manufacturers, Wal-Mart said.
Customers who buy the computers could lengthen the time it takes before a computer goes into sleep mode by changing their settings.
While the change is only for computers sold at Wal-Mart's stores, companies that change their products to cater to the massive retailer typically make the change across their product lines.
For example, about five years ago, Wal-Mart told laundry detergent manufacturers to remove significant amounts of water from their products in order to shrink package sizes and save on shipping costs and fuel. The result was an industry shift to concentrated laundry detergent.
Wal-Mart first asked its suppliers 15 broad questions about their environmental impact in 2009. Now, it is catering questions to specific categories and ranking suppliers' efforts.
With the sustainability index, Wal-Mart is first looking at 100 categories in areas including beef products, beer, writing and office paper, mobile electronics, plastic toys and printers, Thomas said.
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Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis