Monday, November 22, 2010

Making stores sustainable with LEED for Retail

The US Green Building Council officially launched LEED for Retail and the LEED Volume program at Greenbuild last week. LEED for Retail is the result of several years of work and preparation, including a pilot version, three drafts and the input of several major retailers. The LEED Volume program is also largely aimed at retailers; it provides a tool for achieving LEED certification for a prototype building, which allows developers and retail chains to roll out multiple stores without having to go through the effort and expense of certifying each building separately.

Designing a LEED system for retail is challenging simply because of the inherent purpose of retail buildings. The original LEED programs were designed for office buildings and civic uses, which are essentially spaces for people to work in, and in most cases that implies low-impact activities, such as sitting at a computer or in a meeting room.

Retail is different because the physical space is a tool that the retailer uses to sell its products or services. Retail buildings are designed to maximize accessibility, display the product attractively and provide the customer with a rewarding shopping experience. The number one design concern of the retailer will always be to make their store as attractive as possible to customers, and traditionally that has often meant a brightly-lit store (inside and out) and plenty of heat and air conditioning to make the interior as comfortable as possible. That's not the best recipe for an energy efficient building.

For retail mall owners, the comfort and accessibility of the common areas and parking is equally important. The developer and owner have less ability to influence the behavior of customers, and are shy of imposing any rules or restrictions that could turn customers away. In Marin County, the redeveloped Northgate Mall is aiming to achieve LEED Gold certification. One of the LEED strategies was to provide preferential parking for low emission vehicles. This involved designating 154 spaces that were closest to the mall entries “for low-emitting vehicles”. Shopper confusion and anger was immediate, and the project owner responded by blacking out the signage soon afterwards.

Looking at the individual credit requirements, below are some of the key areas that are different in LEED for Retail.
  • Kitchen equipment. The commercial kitchens that prepare food in cafes, restaurants and grocery stores have a major impact on the sustainability of the building. The operations of these types of retail business are more akin to manufacturing facilities than the passive, low use office, school, residential and civic buildings that LEED grew up on. Meal preparation uses energy and raw materials, and creates waste and emissions. The LEED for Retail guide dedicates a full section to the issue of kitchen equipment, with a schedule of equipment types, efficiency ratings, water use and the ratings required to achieve credits. 
  • Refrigeration units. Similar to the above, the nature of the freezers and large scale coolers used in grocery stores has required the inclusion of specific prescriptive standards within LEED for Retail. 
  • Light pollution. When it comes to outside signage, retailers have received a partial pass from the USGBC: external signage that is internally illuminated is exempt from the light pollution credit. 
  • Special provisions for multi tenant projects. In cases where the project is part of a master planned development, such as a retail strip or shopping center where several stores share common facilities, the new guide recognizes that certain requirements will need to be subject to a master plan for the whole development. Alternative transportation, parking, irrigation and landscaping are among the credit areas that require an overall plan for the whole project. 
  • Daylight and Views. It is not clear how these credits will be interpreted. Retail stores are designed with big widows that should in theory provide access to daylight and views for staff. But those credit points will be of no practical value if the light and views are then blocked by window displays, merchandise and signage. Next time you are shopping in the middle of the day, see if you can find a store that uses natural light instead of artificial. 
The new programs are a welcome addition to LEED. There will certainly be challenges in implementation, but overall, the programs should help to encourage more sustainable practices in the development of retail real estate.

No comments: