Editor’s note: This week’s Austin Weekly News will feature articles and columns relating to the environment as we celebrate ‘Austin’s Green Scene’.

While customers at the West Side Wal-Mart shop below, few are aware that the super-store is actually ‘green’ on top. August will mark the first anniversary since the store’s green roof was planted.

The green roof at the Austin store, 4650 W. North Ave., is the first rooftop garden for the retail chain. It joins the company’s recent elevation of its ‘sustainability’ efforts. A spokesperson for the company said this store was chosen for the rooftop garden in an attempt to reflect the city’s ‘green-ability’ assets.

“Chicago has a wonderful green reputation,” said Mia Masten director of corporate affairs for the company’s Midwest division.

Business magazine Fast Company voted Chicago as one of the greenest cities in the world, Masten said.

The Austin Wal-Mart garden covers about 70 percent of the roof’s 142,000 square feet, and is primarily made up of baby’s breath – a species of herbaceous plants – and small shrubs. The garden is maintained by an independent horticultural company. The vegetation is planted about three inches deep and is expected to grow about three inches in height.

The foliage from the roof circulates oxygen into the atmosphere and measures precipitation. A computer system that runs along the perimeter of the structure measures the storm water that runs off the side of the building. The collected data will be used to optimize the usage of the building. The greenery also helps to minimize runoff water that would typically run into the city’s sewer system.

“We’re in the infancy stage,” said Veronica Bell, the store’s green coordinator. “We’re still collecting data [and] depleting our farmland – this is one way of reversing that effect.”

Indoors, the retail chain’s stores are adding to the environment in other ways. Wal-Mart is using a CFL (compact florescent light bulbs) system. The bulbs last three to five years. The retailer also has a lighting system that shuts off when the sun is shinning. One of the company’s biggest projects is an employee-inspired program called Personal Sustainability Project, or PSP.

It’s a company-wide program where employees decide on personal environmental initiatives that they will undertake, such as to stop smoking, planting trees, and recycling.

Some other employee inspired ideas include using an item called a ‘sandwich bale’ or ‘super sandwich bale’ for recycling material. Large amounts of reusable materials are placed in the bags and squashed together for easier handling. The recycled material is converted and reused for the plastic that surrounds multiple water bottle cases. Employees also thought of a recycling book program. Each year Wal-Mart discards large numbers of unsold books. Wal-Mart’s employees, or ‘associates’ as they’re called, thought of ways to recycle the books. Now the store reuses the books by turning unsold books into new books.

As for the Austin Wal-Mart’s green roof, it has other purposes other than strictly environmental – there’s an educational function.

Overlooking the garden is a floor-to-ceiling observation deck that will be used in the future by local high school and college students to study plant life.

“This is a win-win situation for everybody,” said Masten. “We’re the only retailer that’s doing this. The earth isn’t getting any bigger.”