Shopping centres are some of our biggest energy guzzlers, but in recent times have been moving towards a greener future. Here’s seven ways they could continue to push.

1. Environmental product declarations

Environmental product declarations (EPDs) are going to be critical for improving the environmental performance of the retail sector as we move to a low carbon economy, according to lifecycle design expert Richard Haynes.

The group leader of operations & development at eTool in Western Australia, Haynes says most sectors are making big gains in operational carbon savings and functionality but begin to stall when they delve into materials.

“If you look at materials [what] is really driving things is EPDs,” Haynes says.

“I am extremely excited about it. EPDs are equivalent to a nutrition label in the food industry. You can look at an EPD and say, ‘I now know the carbon footprint or the water footprint or the ozone depletion footprint of my carpet per metre square, or my paint or my windows.”

By comparing EPDs, retail tenants or owners can make an intelligent decision when choosing the most suitable – and sustainable – product for their particular development or fitout.

“What EPDs are allowing us to do is it’s setting up a market where sustainable producers are being rewarded and they are being rewarded fairly,” Haynes says.

However, before retail tenants begin looking at the embodied impact of particular materials, Haynes says there is a lot of “low-hanging fruit” that needs to be chipped away.

2. Shedding light on energy use, and outrageous lighting density allowances

Our grid systems are very carbon intensive and business as usual retail developments are very energy intensive.

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) allows a power density of 22 watts a square metre for retail lighting, whereas offices are allowed nine watts and residential just five.

“So straight away you can see there’s a minimum bar there which is more than twice as lenient for retail than it is for offices and it’s more than four times as lenient for retail than it is for residences,” Haynes says. “You can literally build yourself a BCA-compliant retail fitout and be still using incandescent globes!”

The reflectivity of light fittings from materials on the floor and walls affects the number of globes required. Hours of operation also have an impact.

“Most shopping centres would be open for longer than your average office building and would certainly be occupied for longer than your average dwelling, particularly in that lit mode.”

3. Natural light – The Chadstone “gridshell” design

Australia’s largest shopping centre, Chadstone in Melbourne, recently opened its completed stage 40 development with an iconic gridshell glass roof that utilises the sun to light up the mall area.

The aim of the project architects, The Buchan Group, was to achieve architectural aspiration for the mall design.

Abhijit Parasnis

“What roof would suit that design?” The Buchan Group associate Abhijit Parasnis says. “And that is where we landed on the gridshell to get that nice, free-flowing space.”

The roof is 7000 square metres in area and consists of about 2700 rectangular panels measuring between 1.8 and 7.2 square metres each. Despite introducing a lot of light into the building, excess heat is minimised due to the high-performance double-glazed panels.

“With Chadstone the beauty of the design is really about the natural light and to all levels as well, that is something we always try to do,” Parasnis says.

Chadstone was the first development in Victoria and the second in the nation to achieve the 5 star Green Star Design certification from the Green Building Council of Australia. The centre’s luxury precinct (stage 33) achieved a 5 Star Green Star Design rating in 2010 and stage 40 has achieved it as well.

“When we started modelling for Green Star there wasn’t any issue about having a 7000-square-metre glass roof because we were actually using something that was quite high performance,” Parasnis says. “It was quite unique in a glazed roof context – forget about gridshell – that has never been done in Australia before.”

The team is also targeting 5 Star Green Star As Built certification.

The Buchan Group has used skylights to take advantage of natural light at Eastland Shopping Centre in Ringwood and Highpoint in Maribyrnong.

“At Highpoint we tried to use natural materials, exposed beams and we tried to create a naturally ventilated space,” Parasnis says. “So in the skylight of Highpoint, there was a layer introduced whereby it actually could be opened for natural ventilation – that was something quite unique.”

4. Reducing churn – let’s reconsider forced re-fits

Haynes has worked with one proactive builder who reused materials that are usually discarded during retail fitouts.

“He maintained all the plasterboard and the framing and was quite often able to reuse cabinetry, but he was really committed,” he says. “The business-as-usual builders are just going to go in there and throw it all in a skip.”

The other side of the coin is the landlord’s responsibilities.

“The key reason why those fitouts – the refreshing – is occurring is because there is a requirement to do so and it’s a really bizarre scenario because those commercial fitouts are usually really good quality fixtures and fittings,” Haynes says. “They are not designed to last three years; they are probably designed to last a lot longer than that in terms of light fittings and door handles, but they only get that life span out of it because they are forced to refit on a periodic basis.”

“Certainly that would be a very easy win in terms of just tweaking what that refit actually means. You can get a big advantage in terms of making your shopping centre look fresh without having to fill three skip bins every three years.”

Parasnis says churn is a challenge in retail but headway is being made.

“Retail is tied to fashion and fashion requires more up-to-date materials and design so more frequent refitting – that is something that happens more regularly in the retail space than any other environment,” he says.

The Buchan Group worked closely with ESD consultants Simpson Kotzman and CallisonRTKL (concept design in association with Buchan) on several waste reduction initiatives for Chadstone. The waste management plan ensured a minimum 80 per cent of demolition and construction waste (by mass) was re-used or recycled.

Clever design also reduces construction waste, Parasnis says, pointing to The Buchan Group’s successful entry in The Brickworks Living Building Challenge, which was awarded Runner Up and the People’s Choice award.

Their design for the old Brickworks site in Melbourne’s Burwood East pushed boundaries. It took advantage of solar orientation and used excavated soil for landscaping.

“We attempted to design for deconstruction as well so use of modular panels which essentially is designed for disassembly,” Parasnis says. The unique design would also facilitate future expansion of the shopping centre.

Shell and cold fitouts prevent the disposal of unwanted interiors.

“Chadstone was one of the first centres to bring in shell and cold fitouts. That’s actually become fairly normal now,” Parasnis says.

“[In the past] if there was a tenancy the landlord would provide good lighting, ceiling etc. and then tenant would come in with own ideas and strip out the ceiling, rip out the wall lining and put something else in to suit their design.

“What we tend to do now is rather than providing all that … we would put in a stud frame but leave it to the tenant to actually finish it.”

Feature wall panels are frequently being used in retail because they can be easily removed and replaced without altering the space structure behind it.

Recycled timber was used for screening batons in Chadstone’s food court.

“Rather than put in a ceiling, we have used recycled timber to screen the services,” Parasnis says. “In a food situation, where you have services that need more maintenance, you have easy access to those services without having to actually remove and replace parts of the ceiling.”

5. A cold reception

Commercial refrigeration is unregulated and Haynes says many retail environments – such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, clubs, cafes – have massive refrigeration loads.

“There are no minimum energy standards for commercial refrigerators so there’s huge advantages you could make there by specifying efficiency in your refrigeration,” Haynes says.

“Now your average commercial refrigeration sales agent is going to stare at you blankly … but if you get that right and you force them to produce the specifications that you need then there are massive advantages you can get there.” Likewise, for equipment loads.

6. Water-wise design features

Rainwater collection saves water and reduces centre running costs. Chadstone has collected rainwater for toilet flushing for years to reduce potable water use. However, a design feature of its new bus interchange has increased the centre’s collection capacity.

“You have these 15 by 15 metre canopies to protect [patrons] from the elements but also the canopies collect rainwater that funnels through the central column that is holding them in place to take the water down to the rainwater tank,” Parasnis says.

7. Consider lifecycle assessment – small steps having impact

In the past three years, according to Haynes, the cost of lifecycle assessment has come down, making the tools more accessible.

“More and more competitors have come into the space, which is excellent for designers because there is more choice,” Haynes says. “The other thing that is important to note is the speed at which your average ESD consultants are starting to embrace lifecycle assessment. There is just better industry understanding.”

Haynes says there is much that retail can replicate from other industries.

“The innovations are happening in other sectors so when they are being applied to retail you are getting a fantastic effect because there is so much low-hanging fruit,” he says.

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  1. What about decreasing chemical use as well. This is SO important for our health, wellbeing and the safety of our sils and waterways and retailers a can do a great deal to remove toxins from supply chain. Plus shopping centres can use chemical free alternatives to clean and sanitise fod and surfaces etc. Please remember this for future articles like this.