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.