Green Star is preparing a certification tool for green retail fitouts.

13 February 2014 – Imagine the big four banks, one of the big department stores and one of the equally leviathan supermarket chains promising that all their new retail outlets will be Green Star-rated. All of them. Cookie-cutter roll-out mode.

According to the Green Building of Council Australia this is exactly what is about to happen and it’s potentially the most radical shake up in green buildings since the start of the movement. It’s no less than a shift from an inward gaze towards the powerful but admittedly confined realm of the property industry to one of the most influential agents on the planet – consumers and the retail industry.

[Ask mainstream media editors what stories readers love the most, it’s retail: retail profits, retail spending, stories on what’s fun, hot and indulgent. Grab that space and you grab the “aspirational” class who increasingly just may want these indulgences to feel good and green.]

Working with the GBCA – tapping consumer sentiment in a series of workshops, understanding better how to make sustainability “sexy” during the most salacious of consumer behaviours: spending money – is the uber-trendy public relations gurus and marketers at Republic of Everyone.

This is a transformation that could potentially shake up the trailing laggards in the retail property world, who for a decade and more have cited any number of reasons for their poor environmental performance, from “the nature of the business”, the lack of incentives, split incentives and any number of other reasons to remain energy-guzzling and resource wasting with constant churn of fitouts.

That’s not to say they all perform poorly. At the top end (some of the top end) there’s serious work to reduce energy, water and waste, says GPT sustainability manager Bruce Precious. And that’s across most of his peers, he says.

Now, in a deft move poised to energise and thrill supporters, the GBCA is tapping the consumer market – the biggest driver of them all – by going straight to the tenants and bypassing the owners.

Trudy-Ann King, director, market development for the GBCA who is leading this move was this week cautious but excited. The GBCA had wanted to wait to get more signatures on the bottom line, but the cat was bursting out of the bag.

Yes, retail has not performed so well, King said in a telephone conversation on Tuesday.

“The reality is there has to be a driver. In commercial the tenants pushed for green; they went out to market and pushed for it,” King said.

“The great opportunity is when the retailers and the retail property owners start playing together a bit more. In both camps there are people trying to do things.

“But I don’t think it’s aligned or that there’s been much communication around it.”

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So how does her program work?

King explains the process is simple in the end. It relies on a certification approach with a standard design that can be “rolled out lots of times”.

Retailers end up with a more demanding green store to rollout and this will put pressure on the property owners to provide a base building to match these aspirations.

“In the past 18 months we’ve worked with a series of organisations to get them into a position to do this and it’s falling into place,” King says.

The recent announcement that Kathmandu had signed up for a partnership with the GBCA was the hint. Next will be the serious wind-change.

“We’re now in a position where most of [the retailers] have a standard design and they know where they sit in relation to Green Star and are in a position to roll them out,” King said.

“We’ve been working in the retail property owner space but only with certain entities.

“For years we’ve had retailers coming to us and ask, ‘what can we do with Green Star?’ and until two years ago, we were not in a position to work with them.

“It’s taken these organisations a good 18 months.

“Now, we’re bringing the stars into alignment.

So who could these organisations be?

King is tight-lipped but playful; she doesn’t mind at all giving away a few hints.

“It could be a supermarket, banks… maybe we like all four banks, and a department store.”

Whichever department store, whichever supermarket chain, it will be sure to stir some competitive angst in the other, as witnessed in the recent price wars and the start of organic, cage free and sustainable produce starting to hit the supermarket shelves.

With the banks, it’s worth keeping in mind that these can roll out 200 new premises in a year, King says. There’s also NAB’s program to combine some of its retail premises with disaggregated office hubs for their staff so they don’t have to crowd into congested city centres every day and can work near home.

But to win the consumer game you need to understand the consumer mind. So the GBCA’s work with Republic of Everyone will be critical. [It’s worth downloading the group’s booklet on hero brands and how to create them, to get a gist of how these marketing gurus think].

King is one happy person right now: “We’re in the apartment space, the community space and now we’re in the retail space. We understand business-to-business and now we need to understand business to consumer.

“It’s a bit earlier than we wanted to talk about it but I think retail is waiting to blossom.”