11 May – In the US Walmart, not just the biggest retailer in the world but the biggest company, is going green. Or at least greener. In Canada a small van sells food with no prices attached. Customers pay using the honour system. And they do: the business is expanding. In the UK Marks and Spencer’s Plan A (because there is no plan B) is insulating the homes of its employees in  a powerful gesture of social sustainability.

These are just some of the fasinating trends that Kirsty Máté, program director interior design at the School of Architecture and Design, University of Tasmania, discovered in her world wide research for her PhD.

Following is an edited version of her findings,  which she presented at GreenCities 2011 in Melbourne earlier this year.

At the start of 2010 I took the opportunity to find out what was going on around the world in retail.

My trip took me to more than 25 cities in 50 days – from Sydney across the United States, to Canada, the UK and Europe –and back home again.

And yes, I offset all of my carbon emissions for all of my transport for the entire trip – 12.1 tonnes of it. So to use the itinerary of my trip, I am starting the case studies in the US and working my across the globe, to end in Europe.

Retailers take lead in greening

What I noticed most about the US was not only the sheer volume of consumerism and the enormity of the buildings that went with this, but perhaps because of this, the retail companies themselves were taking the lead in and “greening” their businesses.

As the largest retailer – and company – in the world , Wal-Mart is a constant target of criticism and legal action. Yet it has taken a bold step in committing to the following three goals:
•    To be 100 per cent supplied by renewable energy
•    To produce zero waste
•    To provide more environmentally friendly products.

In 2009, Wal-Mart U.S. had addressed 13 of the 14 environmental elements identified as important and relevant to these goals.

The “cookie cutter” American approach has its advantages in creating positive impacts for sustainability in the retail sector, as a single change to the design of one store will be repeated hundreds of times across the nation and often the globe.

LEED in the US is equivalent to our Green Star program in Australia. As Nick Shaffer – manager commercial real estate at the US Green Building Council, explained to me the creation of the LEED retail tools is a positive step forward for the industry sector.

The two LEED retail tools currently available, for new construction and interiors, will be joined by another which addresses the “cookie cutter” design approach to allow businesses to have a prototype certified and then rolled out across the nation. This approach also has its downside as a prototype system does not necessarily allow for climatic, social or cultural differences.

While only 0.5 per cent of all retail spaces were registered for LEED certification in America, this percentage still represents hundreds of stores across the nation. (In comparison 5 per cent of commercial offices  are registered with LEED). The retail companies leading the way with LEED as of early 2010 were Starbucks, Best Buy, Kohls, City Bank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Gwynne Rogers

Natural Marketing Institute
Gwynne Rogers, the lifestyles, of health and ustainability business director at the Natural Marketing Institute, explained that16-20 per cent of all American consumers can now be categorised as being LOHAS customers – making choices for lifestyle, health and or sustainability benefits. As well, the growth in sales for organic foods has grown by 10 per cent in recent years despite the economic downturn.

It is therefore unsurprising to see the success the Whole Foods Store –from a single store in Austin in the late 1980s to more than 270 stores across the US, Canada and now the UK. Apart from the organic and healthy food the stores contain, the business also addresses the principles of sustainability in its  buildings, offsetting energy use through wind farms, using solar panels where possible, integrating recycled and low impact materials and conserving water.

Their flagship store in Austin had a palpable difference to the  average supermarket, the most notable being the stream of natural daylight pouring in at the entrance and the layout of the store which included small kiosks and cafés dotted throughout selling their cooked produce and providing customers with classes and ideas on how to prepare healthy meals.

Regency Centers
Regency Centers is a major retail developer in the US, building 399 centres across America over the last 40 years.  Its program, Greengenuity, was developed to address issues including energy, water, exterior lighting, stormwater retrieval, sustainable materials, waste and recycling and alternative energy sources for their base building. The company  sees sustainability as a long term investment into the stewardship of its  buildings and the well being of the planet.

Its  recent program, Smart Irrigation, for example, is expected to save more than 360 million litres of water annually in 90 centres. A growing number of their centres are applying for LEED certification and the Jefferson Square Center has gained a gold certification and the Lower Nazareth Commons, a silver.

Regency recognises a major inhibitor for shopping centres is the inflexibility of some of the major retail “big box” players demanding a particular floor size and controlling the size of the buildings. Future re-tenanting of these spaces becomes difficult when other major tenants have different footprint demands.

Back to cultural retail experiences and forward to community control

While in New York I was privileged to meet with some people in media and research who have their finger on the pulse of what lies in the future for the retail industry.

The loss of cultural diversity in the retail experience across the nation and the globe is predicted to see a strong movement back to more bespoke and culturally local retail experiences. Starbucks has noted this in its  retail stores, integrating culturally specific menus and in some cases fitouts, instead of the formulaic approach of the past.
Community consumer

The community consumer is seen as another probable future for the retail sector – where consumers have more control of their retail environments through community groups. An example of this is a community fresh fruit and vegetable market where everyone in the community contributes to the organisation and running of the business, harking back to the community co-ops of the mid 20th Century.

David Bodamer

David Bodamer, editor in chief of Retail Traffic, foresees that digital and online advances in the retail industry may lessen merchandise being sold through retail outlets and the development of showrooms and warehouses.

An equally important point is to rethink the uses of current places and spaces and how these can be changed for different activities in the future such as the HighLine Park in New York, a disused train line turned into a park above ground level.

Canada is a hotbed of research on retail at the moment. One of the key research projects, providing a global overview is Greening Retail. A thorough and growing research project which has over 500 case studies in their database on what’s happening in the retail sector across the globe.

As well research is being undertaken at the University of Western Ontario (Richard Ivey School of Business and the Department of Geography); Ryerson University (Ted Rogers School of Management) and the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Environment and Business.

Associate Professor Jennifer Lynnes from Waterloo University told me a small van selling organic food and drink in a central park in Kitchener during summer didn’t supply the customers with any prices. People paid (or not) what they thought their meal was worth. Trust and honesty was the basis for their business and surprisingly this concept has been very successful, so much so they are expanding the following summer.

How can we encourage and reflect these same values in the built environment and retail? Values such as trust are, I believe, going to be important for the success of a “sustainable” future.

Mixed use shopping precincts in UK
Progress in the UK has been more mixed than in the US, with a seemingly equal emphasis placed on the development of shopping centre design as well as the retail outlets themselves – big and small.
Cabot Circus is the first shopping centre to receive an Excellent rating for the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment – the highest rating in the BREEAM sustainable building rating scheme.

There are a number of features that gave the centre this ranking including:

  • Store fitout guide & staff training
  • Street lighting LED
  • Motion detectors
  • Natural lighting and ventilation
  • Low environmental impact building materials
  • Rainwater harvesting system

An interesting point is its mixed use scheme. The centre incorporates retail, catering, leisure, offices, market, housing, affordable housing, student housing, hotel and car parking.

The development of mixed use shopping precincts is important for the integration of social and cultural diversity and will be an important aspect of sustainable retail developments now and in the future.
Marks & Spencers’ Plan A, is a commitment to change 100 things over five years through seven pillars of sustainability.

In 2010 they achieved 62 changes and have increased these commitments to a further 80. As well as improving renewable resource and reducing energy consumption, one of the more innovative and interesting achievements is their commitment to reduce their energy consumption beyond their own buildings, to the homes of their employees.

They will offer free home insulation and a free energy monitor to all qualifying M&S employees. They expect to insulate around 30,000 homes, saving around 13,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Equally, other supermarket and department stores such as Tesco and Sainsburys, are implementing challenging sustainabilitytargets, which, along with their core business are being reflected in their buildings.

London particularly is known for its original boutique and bespoke fashion stores. In this same tradition, there is now a growing number of small stores specialising in sustainable produce, being reflected in the design of the store itself. Stores such as Unpackaged and Eco Age sell sustainable products, which in themselves encourage the store design to reflect these same values.

Unpackaged, for example, have display containers that hold bulk foods encouraging customers to bring their own containers for refilling and EcoAge use the products themselves todecorate the store.

Restaurants such as Konstam, are on the increase in London, sourcingtheir produce from local farmers, within a 50 mile radius of London.

Green shopping designs across Europe
In Europe , there   is an exciting array of designs for green shopping centres, with some of the department stores such as the German store C & A, also improving its  environmental footprint without changing “business as usual.”

C & A is a fashion department store, which can be found across Europe. Currently it  monitorsall of  its stores closely from a centralised database to assess varying energy needs and how these can be reduced, starting with the highest energy consumers.

As a case study in 2008 C & A opened  its first eco store in association with retail developer Redevco in Mainz Germany. The design of the store has enabled the company to reduce its  electricity needs by 50 per cent through increased insulation, reduced lighting needs, reducing external supply air while maintaining air quality and an energy efficient heating system.

As well as energy savings, most of thestores participate in waste reduction strategies to reduce point of sale and display waste through storage and re-use.

Forum Duisburg in Germany was built by Multi Development – their first BREEAM certified mainland Europe project – certified as very good. Some of its features include a green roof, a compli,mentary service for disabled customers to assist them in their shopping and a combined heat and power system with absorption chillers linked with the city’s low carbon district energy system.

However, Paul Appleby from URS Corporation, who was involved in the project, makes an important point. To enable the best environmental outcome for a project the strategies for a sustainable project must be made at the start of the project rather than later on in the design and construction process, when the ability to make real and positive changes diminishes, the later in the project these decisions are made.

Two exciting and innovatively designed projects in Austria by SES Spar are Europark in Salzburg and Atrio in Villach. Both designs make full use of natural daylight to reduce lighting needs of the public areas while also providing an open and inviting interior environment.

Europark has set a benchmark in shopping centre design with its use of sustainable materials, its climate control system, its reuse of energy in exhaust airflow for heating incoming air and a strong focus on recycling.

In Villach, a small village high in the Alps of Austria, we find the Atrio shopping centre. The unique aspects of Atrio, is its use of ground-coupled energy for both heating and cooling, and the use of trans-seasonal storage, using waste heat from summer cooling stored in the ground for use in winter heating.
These strategies have enabled cooling towers to be removed, reducing external noise and the entire system saving 500 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas per year. The design is open and fresh and makes good use of the alpine landscape beyond, integrating and bringing the external landscape back into the building.

New technologies tested on customers
The Real Future Store lies in a small town not far from Cologne. Here new technologies are tested on customers in an actual store. At the time I visited there were many different technologies being looked into – bottle recycling machines which detect the type and size of each bottle for the correct deposit return; robots to assist the customer in where to look for various items; mobile scanning equipment for payment of items at the check out; finger print payment options instead of a credit card and soundscapes which enhanced the shopping experience by providing seascape sounds at the fish sales area!

The part these high tech solutions will have in reducing the environmental impacts of retail buildings is difficult to determine but perhaps it will open opportunities for more social intervention as we spend less time in the supermarket, reconnecting with the people who surround us.
Australia’s development is world class but retailers lagging

Some of Australia’s latest shopping centre developments are at the cutting edge of sustainable design for retail. Shopping centres, such as Rouse Hill and Orion, are in world class status when it comes to sustainability – especially in relation to passive solar design and social inclusion. However the retail companies themselves seem to be lagging behind exemplars in the US and the UK in particular.

The GPT Group havs produced an exemplar in the Rouse Hill Town Centre, Sydney, reducing its ecological footprint by 32 per cent through passive solar design features, renewable energy sources, water catchment and recycling and social and community outreach programs, such as one on food recovery.

This program collects left over food from the Rouse Hill Town Centre and, in conjunction with the Parramatta Mission, distributes the food to disadvantaged people in Western Sydney.

Other programs the GPT Group have been initiating include the Getting to Work Program to support emerging communities in their settlement in Australia and The Gathering Point, providing a meeting place for indigenous peoples in Melbourne’s west to increase pride and improve health.

These types of programs reflect a future for the retail industry that will see a growing integration with its local community and their needs as well as desires.

The Orion Shopping Centre, in Springfield Queensland achieved the first six green star rating, using the GBCA shopping centre pilot tool and is regarded as “a pioneer of world’s best practice in environmental design for a retail and town centre.”
The use of passive solar design principles in modern shopping centres is a new and growing area of design, not only assisting to reduce energy consumption but bringing back a connection of the external environment to the retail experience.
Chadstone Shopping Centre, owned by the Gandel group is the oldest shopping centre in Victoria and the largest in Australia. It was also the first to achieve a five star green star using the new GBCA Retail Centre v1 tool.
With architects, The Buchan Group and consultant Simpson Kotzman, these latest additions and renovations to the centre, have reduced greenhouse gas and potable water use and improved indoor quality and artificial lighting requirements through vast naturally lit spaces.

Transitional thresholds between external and internal areas have also helped to reduce the impact of external climatic conditions as people enter and exit the building.
However Harvey Male from The Buchan Group, notes that the opportunities shopping centres could have in surrounding communities has been largely untapped due to the inflexibility of existing systems.

“For instance, all shopping centres have very large roof areas. These have the capacity to capture and store far more rainwater than a shopping centre could ever use. However current technology and systems prevent this from being distributed to local users,” he said.

The Melbourne Retail Strategy 2006:2012 – includes a strategy to ensure the retail vision for Melbourne sits within a sustainable framework for the working and residential populations of the city to reduce water and energy consumption, minimise greenhouse gas and improve water quality and waste management practices.

To date this has been achieved in new and refurbished retail infrastructure such as Melbourne Central amongst others, increasing the accessibility and diversity of transport to and within the city including a rental bike scheme; the increase of green retail outlets such as the Eco Innovators pillar; reducing waste through innovative business opportunities such as the Keep Cup reusable takeaway coffee cup; increasing health and fitness through programs such as Eat Light Eat Right and increasing social diversity through the Laneways project.

Point of Purpose Advertising International have a retail sustainability conference once a year which is well worth attending and Fast Moving Consumer Goods have lots of valuable information related to retail and sustainability which is not only focused on the grocery sector. Others include the Property Council of Australia and the Australian Shopping Centre Council.

My interior students have been researching how the future of a sustainable retail sector may look – exploring ideas of recycling and reuse; slow retail; retail and the temporary use of abandoned retail spaces; providing socially responsible retail spaces which give back to those with no-where to stay at night, and store decoration which is also the product.

This presentation includes some excellent examples of how we can improve the design of the built environment to be more sustainable. However, we currently design retail environments to suit the paradigm of shopping and consumerism.

What if our current paradigms were to change for more sustainable systems of consumption? How would our built environments reflect these new paradigms? What would happen to the existing buildings and how would new buildings be changed?

These questions are forming the basis of my PhD to help understand what a sustainable future in retail may look like and how we can mitigate, even current designs, to best suit these possibilities.

I end with a an example of a provocation for retail as a political statement – an eyeglasses store in Munich is  using their shopfront display to explain what is good “Ja” and bad “Nein” about the world – another form of a sustainable retail future?