Green Retail Gains Ground
In truth, green building design has always been a difficult objective when it comes to retail. Retail, after all, is heavily reliant on cars, which are not exactly synonymous with green design. And while designers have been able to tout the benefits of green developments – from lower energy and water costs to their ability to produce healthier environments and reduced greenhouse emissions – the advantages of green retail have been more difficult to evaluate, particularly when measured against the smaller profit margins under which most retailers operate and the short-term financial deals typically used by developers in structuring retail projects.
But while it continues to be a challenge, green retail has been gradually gaining ground over the past decade, particularly as corporate sustainability programs have become more developed and the benefits to the business in terms of economic, social, and environmental impacts are more obvious. As retail has come to be regarded as less about buying goods and more about creating experiences, consumers increasingly have shown a preference for shopping in environmentally friendly environs. That change in mindset has opened the door for increased corporate funding and additional resources to support retail sustainability programs.
Because energy use typically represents the largest direct expense for most shopping centers, reducing energy use has an immediate impact on retail sustainability, while simultaneously providing the largest potential for lowering costs. Numerous sustainable techniques can be integrated into new retail construction or adapted for existing retail applications, including renewable energy use, reducing energy demand through the use of energy efficient lighting, and recycling waste heat.
Water represents another major environmental consideration for retail operations. In no uncertain terms, shopping centers use a tremendous amount of water. From an operations perspective, the use of potable water can be reduced significantly by employing water conserving plumbing fixtures or native plantings that lower irrigation needs. Installing tenant sub-metering to track water consumption can also lead to lower water use.
Yet another key aspect of an effective sustainability program is waste reduction. While tenants and landlords should look for ways to divert waste from landfills and incinerators, operators should consider dividing their waste streams into items that can be recycled or reused and those that will end up in a landfill. Decreasing the volume of items that ultimately end up in a landfill potentially will lower a retail center’s landfill tipping fees, while providing an environmental benefit which resonates with consumers who are likely to see the direct correlation with their own recycling efforts.
Finally, retail site maintenance must be considered. A sustainable operations plan needs to address snow removal, cleaning external facades, sidewalks, and common areas, and what paints and solvents will be permissible. All choices must clearly reflect environmentally sensitive practices. For renovations, operators should consider installing light or reflective roofing materials that reduce the urban heat island effect and reduce energy consumption.
All of these techniques can help a retail center operate more sustainably, but how does an operator know whether progress is really being made? The International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) Property Efficiency Scorecard potentially provides a solution. Using evaluation metrics based on shopping center-specific criteria, the scorecard assesses how a retail center ranks with respect to energy use, water consumption, waste disposal, and green operations. This assessment can then be benchmarked against other centers in its own portfolio or against industry peers regionally or nationally.
Beyond ranking the retail center, the ICSC scorecard provides guidance for future improvements, giving operators actionable information about how to make their retail centers more sustainable. It also offers performance data that can be reported to stakeholders through a number of corporate sustainability reporting systems, including directly outputting data in a format required by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark.
There is an old adage that says we cannot improve what is not being measured. While landlords in a typical retail development cannot control the operational practices of their tenants, they can improve operational efficiencies – and sustainability – by using a tool like the scorecard that caters to the specific needs of multi-tenant retail projects. Ultimately, these efficiencies will help to reduce CAM charges, lower total costs, and reinforce a retail center’s environmental credibility.
While it may be difficult to measure a retail center’s social impacts, its economic impact and, increasingly, its environmental impacts can now be measured. Doing so enables retail centers to pursue those operational activities that generate economic advantage, advance our natural environment, and provide societal benefits. As a result, the ideal retail project will be one that meets the needs of owners, retailers, and consumers, where sustainability is not just an add-on but an integral part of the design.
Dustin Watson is a partner and the director of sustainability at the Baltimore-based design firm DDG, an internationally renowned, industry leader, delivering innovative and award-winning design, planning, architecture, and graphics to commercial developments in cities, towns, and suburbs around the world. Dustin is also on the International Council of Shopping Center’s Retail Green Planning Committee, the Urban Land Institute’s Sustainable Development Product Council, and the AIA Baltimore’s Committee on the Environment. For more information, visit www.ddg-usa.com.
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