A Brisbane retail scene

12 February 2014 – While the shopping centre industry scored poorly on a recent report on overall sustainability by Catalyst Australia, the Brisbane based National Retail Association is busy on a major education program for its stakeholders, writes Willow Aliento.

An energy-efficiency program by the National Retail Association is set to deliver significant savings for small to medium enterprise retail tenants – and in some cases, they may not have to spend a cent to achieve them.

The Retail Buys the Future program aims to provide education, information and support for retailers who want to improve their energy efficiency while addressing the roadblocks many retailers perceive.

NRA retail sustainability project manager, Daile Kelleher, says that time, cost perceptions, lack of appropriate information and challenges in negotiating with landlords are some of the reasons small business owners may not previously have undertaken energy-efficiency measures. At the same time, there is a clear benefit for these businesses once they do start to implement appropriate changes.

Daile Kelleher

“Energy bills are one of the largest expenses for SMEs after wages and product,” says Kelleher. “Energy efficiency can make a massive difference to profitability and the bottom line; and savings are always a better option than “lets sell more product” in terms of meeting costs.

“Energy efficiency can also create a point of difference and become a [positive] marketing thing.

“It is in the back of people’s minds but they don’t know where to start or what to do, there has been a real lack of information appropriate for Australia, and the business owners are quite time-poor.”

The NRA solution includes a single point of contact via web portal, which will provide information, resources, and energy monitoring and carbon assessment tools. The web portal is being developed by Retail Buys the Future project partner GreenBizCheck, and Kelleher expects it will be up and running by April this year.

In addition, the NRA has been undertaking extensive consultation, conducting surveys, developing case studies and preparing guides and other materials.

Retail has been a neglected sector

In some ways, retail had been a neglected sector in terms of publicly funded energy efficiency programs and services, unlike the commercial buildings sector or the domestic consumer sector. The NRA’s program is the first comprehensive program for retail in the country, and has been supported by the federal government through the Department of Industry as part of the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program.

Kelleher says that while retailers may often be left to fend for themselves in terms of industry support, in terms of the Australian economy the retail SMEs make a major contribution to social sustainability.

“Retail is the largest private employer in Australia, and retail and personal services also employs the most women, has the highest number of part-time jobs, employs the most young people and has a high proportion of older workers,” said Kelleher.

A strongly diverse sector

The very diversity of the sector – from strip mall retailers and fast food outlets through to hair and beauty salons and “big box” retailers like Bunnings – means information on energy efficiency has to address a whole range of diverse needs and energy use patterns.

Photo: Brisbane marketing

“It is not as simple as just turning off lights and changing things, for example, for many retailers visual merchandising displays are very important so they need that lighting because branding matters. It’s about educating them on their options.

“In terms of options for older [less energy efficient] shopping centres, we look at how they use their energy and at changing habits and considering how they do things. For example, using more of the natural light, or where there are gardens outside the windows, building those gardens up so the vegetation blocks some of the heat and glare and reduces the need for air conditioning in summer.

“A big focus is on low or no cost measures.”

Talk the landlord, get some action

Retailers will also be encouraged to talk to their landlords about upgrades to base building systems such as airconditioning and lighting and discuss what can be done to improve energy efficiency. Kelleher says that while many landlords and tenants are jointly doing good things in terms of energy efficiency, in some situations the retailers need to “push back”.

“Sometimes they are paying quite exorbitant fees to be in these [less energy-efficient] centres, and they need to negotiate. We have put together resources on green leasing and how to green up your lease,” says Kelleher.

“We have found that newer centres or centres which are undergoing refurbishments and upgrades are very conscious of sustainability and efficiency.”

Centres with independently verified energy ratings are often specifying elements of fitout for retail tenants including lighting.

Where landlords are not engaging in the discussion, Kelleher says it is important for retailers to focus on what they can do for themselves, rather than let that be a barrier to initiating energy efficiency measures. Simple measures such as adding a timer to lights, turning off the stockroom light when it’s not being accessed, and thinking about ways to manage freight logistics more effectively and cut the spend on fuel and trips for deliveries can all have quite a major impact.

Another freight saving comes when SMEs, particularly those in the retail food trade, source local produce rather than long-distance produce. This is something which also has a demonstrable market value in terms of attracting more customers, and feeds into the wider picture of community sustainability by supporting local farmers.

Franchises or chains have it easier

Kelleher points out that it is easier for retailers who are part of bigger organisations such as franchises or chains, as they often have access to more information or have set guidelines for things like lighting. However, the quite small, independent businesses often don’t know who to ask or where to go for advice, and there are few businesses out there which focus on assisting this specific sector.

Fremantle bookshop:cafe:clothing store

Don’t ask the electrician (as a rule)

A case in point is there are few lighting designers in the retail field, so often SMEs are going to their electricians for advice, but according to Kelleher, often electricians don’t present the long-term view of payback periods and savings.

One of the major aims of Retail Buys The Future is to make everything as easy to use as possible, ensuring the information is valuable and relevant, and the web portal easy to navigate. Since the program first commenced in July last year, a series of pilot groups have been involved who have helped NRA refine the resources.

In terms of the big sustainability picture, energy efficiency measures in the retailer space have what Kelleher describes as a “roll-on” effect. The cost savings and the sense of achieving higher levels of social responsibility lead to higher staff satisfaction, which then leads to SME owners considering further sustainability measures.

“Small changes are wins which lead to seeing a difference in costs and carbon footprints, which then leads to people putting aside some of the budget for further measures,” said Kelleher.