For the majority of retailers, the word “sustainability” is used interchangeably with “operational efficiency.” Not making the distinction between these unique concepts is a justifiable misunderstanding because although they aren’t direct synonyms, they are related.
In my opinion, it is never too late for a brand’s leadership to expand its focus beyond a bottom-line mentality (operational efficiency) and amplify its efforts to preserve natural resources (sustainability). One major way retailers can become more sustainable is by examining the design and construction of stores, specifically remodels.
The power of remodels
New store development accounts for only two percent of the total retail building in the United States.1 From this statistic, we can conclude the majority of greenhouse gas emissions emitted from the retail sector are not from new stores, but rather existing stores.
Instead of allocating funds toward building new one-off stores aimed at achieving Zero Energy, LEED, Energy Star, Living Building Challenge or Passive House certifications, retailers could generate more value – both financially and environmentally – if they focused on retro-commissioning current stores. Retro-commissioning is a systematic process used to improve an existing building’s performance. By using a whole-building systems approach, retro-commissioning can identify operational improvements, which will increase occupant comfort and save energy.2
Undertaking an initiative to maximize the efficiency of existing equipment and systems not only improves a building’s performance, but presents the ideal set of circumstances to implement a clean fuel source such as solar. Taking the extra step to integrate clean energy during a store remodel reduces reliance on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources for future generations.
From MG2’s experience, large brands typically remodel stores every five to ten years. With the top 100 retailers operating between several hundred to tens of thousands of stores globally, this equates to hundreds of thousands of stores being remodeled on an annual basis.3 Remodels subsequently present significant opportunities for retailers to reduce reliance on natural resources, minimize energy consumption and produce less waste.
Changes made during a store remodel typically consist of aesthetic and planning updates to keep the store on-brand and up to code. I strongly encourage retailers to consider incorporating retro-commissioning into remodel projects as the decision requires minimal cost and yields high energy savings.
The following are four additional actions I recommend retailers incorporate to sustainably remodel existing stores:
+ Implement clean energy
Making the switch from operational efficiency to true sustainability requires retro-commissioned remodeled stores to draw from a clean energy source. Unlike solar power generating systems that convert 100 percent of energy into electricity, fossil fuel power plants lose 60 percent of energy input to the system.4
Adding solar panels to a store’s roof not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but also increases the store’s energy efficiency by 40 percent. Retailers that do not have control of their roof space can instead opt to purchase renewable electricity from their local power company. If the power company does not have green energy options available, the retailer can choose to buy carbon offsets or renewable energy credits through a third party.
+ Monitor water usage
Energy is not the only resource that can be optimized. Water usage can be seamlessly monitored with an automated, cloud-based application like the APANA System, which manages water like inventory. APANA reports its customers have demonstrated between 18 to 25 percent savings on water and sewer bills, experienced an average payback on capital expenditure of 18 months and have combined to save more than 30,000,000 gallons of water each year.6
By monitoring water consumption around the clock, building managers can identify the fixtures that are least efficient and what building systems and equipment require upgrades in future store remodels. Systems like APANA create a positive feedback loop, promoting the implementation of low flow fixtures and reducing potable water consumption.
+ Select green materials
Thanks to initiatives like Declare, GREENGUARD and Cradle to Cradle, it has never been easier to research and buy green materials. Choosing a Cradle to Cradle material ensures the product was sourced sustainably and is not thrown into a landfill after its usable life. For example, certain manufacturers design carpet tiles capable of being reused once a commercial client is done with them. The yarn and other fibers are separated from the backing, producing two main material streams that can be recycled to make new high-grade products.
Green materials can also improve the indoor environmental quality of a space. A retailer that chooses to buy a Reveal product can take comfort in knowing their purchase does not contain “worst in class” Red List components in its chemical makeup. Utilizing Reveal products is especially important for store finishes, as consumers and employees directly interact with those elements on a daily basis. By requesting a nontoxic material, a retailer can improve indoor environmental quality, which can have resounding effects on people’s health and happiness.
+ Encourage waste management
Retail remodels should focus on three initiatives: reduce, re-use and recycle. In addition to specifying Cradle to Cradle finishes and optimizing material procurement, brands can help reduce the amount of waste by implementing a construction waste management plan for all stores. Debris generated from construction and demolition (C&D) activities is recognized as one of the largest components of the U.S. solid waste stream.
The most recent Environmental Protection Agency Report found that 534 million tons of C&D materials are generated annually in the United States.2 These materials typically include concrete, asphalt, wood, metals, gypsum wallboard and roofing. In many states, the amount of C&D materials account for more than one-fourth of the disposed waste stream.7 A waste management plan would ensure all appropriate materials are separated and recycled either on or off-site.
While there are many third-party companies a retailer can hire to haul off waste and divert it elsewhere, best practice is to have the general contractor separate recyclable materials on-site. By educating and emphasizing the importance of waste management to the general contractor, a retailer is helping promote environmental stewardship within the construction industry.
The reality of the situation
(and the opportunity to change it)
It’s unrealistic to expect all retailers to “go green;” however, it is feasible for brands to begin specifying greener building equipment, systems and materials. With national and international brands operating millions of store locations, changing a single element in a retailer’s remodel cycle can have exponential benefits. These actions individually and collectively lay the ground work for future sustainable remodels.
Whether a retailer is attempting to minimize its carbon footprint for cost-saving incentives, public relations goodwill or because it wants to put sustainability on par with profits, there is no advantage to judging whether an organization is making changes for the right or wrong reasons. When it comes to sustainability in retail, a step in the right direction is always positive. Sustainability optimization in store construction and design is a first step to take toward bettering our planet.