Green Retail: No Time Like the Present
Rick Ferrara in Retail, Retail, Sustainability

Most retailers are still facing a tough economy, reduced expansion plans and diminished staff. Doing more with less is likely to be a trend for the next few years in retail facility design and construction. Cost- and energy-saving sustainable design has been with us long enough where the novelty has worn off, but many retail chains are now asking themselves how to go green effectively while dealing with a combination of leased and owned spaces and store sizes ranging from a few hundred square feet to over one-hundred thousand. Many times LEED does not fit well with the retail sector – so the real question remains, If LEED doesn’t work for the retail sector what does?

Sustainable design is still a high priority and many retailers have been greening certain aspects of their stores for years. Many big box retailers have undertaken massive retrofits of their lighting packages, and a few have undertaken LEED flagship stores that will hopefully yield improvements that can be integrated into their prototype stores. Where many retailers struggle, though, is in the right-sizing of their sustainability efforts. With retail leases often written as short-term contracts, many sustainable strategies that work well for commercial office buildings cannot return the required pre-investment quickly enough to make LEED for retail practical for widespread deployment. I recommended that rather than looking externally to LEED, that retailers analyze their own unique needs and prioritize the most critical operational and construction issues. Material durability, systems efficiency, and sustainable operations strategies can be developed that will maximize the return on investment.

If retailers were to prioritize one sustainable strategy over all others, lighting is likely to be at the top of the list. Insuring that the correct amount of light is being delivered with maximum efficiency is vital. Great strides have been made in the design of LED lighting in the last 18 months, and any retailer that has not recently considered LED should look at the latest technology.

Faced with the slowdown in retail growth and increased pressures to operate more efficiently, now is an excellent time for retailers to reevaluate their retail store design and operation strategies. With profit margins being squeezed tighter than ever, monies saved in more efficient operations could translate into increased profitability. Some organizations have struggled with how to effectively identify and remedy operation leakage, as a disproportionate emphasis is placed on the expense of initial design and construction. But when that initial design includes energy-saving systems and efficient implementation plans, a retailer’s recurring operational costs can be greatly reduced – significantly outweighing the perceived burden of higher up-front costs.

Retailers should also avail themselves to the massive amount of annual research undertaken by retail leaders such as Walmart. For years Walmart has been conducting thorough research on every aspect of the design and operations of their retail stores, and the information is shared at an annual conference at the Bentonville headquarters and published on their website. This research has included studying the habits of the truck drivers delivering goods to their stores, the practicality and implications of waterless urinals, and alternate energy generation to name a few. Every item is evaluated based on a holistic grading scale where initial cost, life cycle cost and customer satisfaction are all considered.

It’s vital that retailers continue to evaluate their strategies and stay current with practical solutions. The investment will pay off.

Rick Ferrara, LEED AP, is a Senior Associate in Gensler’s Dallas office, and leader of the firm’s retail practice in the south central region. With more than 20 years experience in office, hospitality, retail and service facilities, Rick has been responsible for conceptual design and construction administration on more than 2 million square feet of built space. Rick has been instrumental in assisting multiple projects in integrating sustainable design into their facilities, with a special interest in the retail sector. Contact him at
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