Retail’s Hot Color This — and Every — Season: Green

I was reading an article in the Community Times today about a new shopping center in Maryland that will be built with green design when something caught my eye.

The actual project details weren’t anything too out of the ordinary for green building — the structure will include use of natural light, a high efficiency HVAC system and possibly a green roof.

What stuck out to me was one sentence — "Eldersburg will get the first green shopping center in the mid-Atlantic
region with the addition of Main Street Eldersburg, a
90,000-square-foot shopping center on 12.5 acres on Londontown
Boulevard behind the Wal-Mart."

Really? The Mid-Atlantic region has no green shopping centers?

The article went on to say that, according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Web site, there are more
than 150 LEED-certified buildings in Maryland, the majority of which
are commercial offices or mixed-use buildings.

OK. But it got me to wondering: With all the hype about the public works sector of commercial building adapting green design policies — thanks to the many cities who have signed on to using it — and the increasing effort of the housing industry to go green, which receives a considerable amount of press, what about retail?

It maybe isn’t as flashy a story as homes that break the style mold to incorporate ecology, or as headline-friendly as mayors demanding all new city buildings give back to the environment, but it turns out the retail industry has been — rather quietly — embracing green design for quite some time.

Which is a good thing. Retail sales are up — from total sales of $298,986 in January to $343,880 in June, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. True, they’ve dipped over the year, notably from May to June, which may have hurt industry confidence, but things are on the upswing.

Take, for example, a recent CoStar report said that Phoenix was the nation’s leader in retail construction, with 13.4 million retail square feet under construction; other areas on the list included California’s Inland Empire, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Cleveland, according to the Arizona Republic.

Megaretailer JC Penney this week issued a positive earnings statement. Kohl’s and Nordstrom also reported having a good quarter.

Not all retailers can say the same — Wal-mart and Macy’s did not fare as well — but there is evidence the industry is keeping above water, and, as a whole, is backing sustainability. The EPA in 2006 released a list of its "Green Power Partners," retailers who had made the largest retail purchases of renewable energy. Topping the list: Whole Foods, which wasn’t a huge surprise, followed by Starbucks. But other additions included Safeway, Staples. Liz Claiborne and FedEx Kinko’s: big retailers.

And this isn’t brand new. Consider the Retail Traffic magazine article back in 1999 that said green design’s influence was already spreading through the retail community,  citing a collective feeling that "
a cost-effective and energy-efficient holistic approach for new
and renovated retail properties" just made sense.

So what’s next? A little help is on the way to get more retailers on board.
LEED currently has two retail rating systems in the pilot stage — one for renovation and new construction and one for interiors — which address lighting, sites, security, energy and water concerns. The retail systems came about because LEED got so many calls from concerned retailers, according an interview the retail program coordinator did in May with CoStar.

Testing is ongoing for the interior program. The public comment period for the New Construction system is over; now we await LEED’s final draft.

Surely a set standard and checklist for the retail industry will encourage even more retailers — large and small — to operate using green methods, ask future landlords and developers to incorporate green building practices into new construction and maybe, just maybe, provide consumers with a new product: sustainability.

And that will be the best deal in the house.