Vibrant Communities
Maureen Boyer in Retail, Retail Centers

Image © Gensler

In my continued exploration of place making and its relationship to retail real estate, I am excited to be involved with two keynote conversations at this year’s ICSC CenterBuild and RetailGreen conferences, which will take place in early December in Phoenix, Ariz.

Green Retail: Walking the Talk

The first conversation will take place on opening day of RetailGreen, where I’ll moderate the panel discussion, “Behind the Mission Statement: Foundations of Green.” Our panel will dive into what it takes for retail properties to be green, not just to say that they want to be.

Joining me in this discussion are long-time veteran and proponent of sustainable design, Larry Kilduff (vice president and regional management lead for Regional Retail at Jones Lang LaSalle) as well as Mark Schope (head of development for EDEKA, the largest supermarket company in Germany.) EDEKA is well-known for exemplary environmental practices and has been an early adopter of widespread use of CO2-based refrigeration systems in its stores. Coupled with Gensler’s portfolio of sustainably designed projects – now approaching 91 million square feet – the combined perspective of our three different companies demonstrates a solid commitment to responsible and sustainable design practices. We’ll discuss answers to questions that are not often asked in the retail real estate industry, diving into the ‘why’ of sustainability, such as: Why do you want your stores and shopping centers to be green? What propels sustainability issues forward for you and your organization?

Larry, Mark and I will look beyond the quantitative, which is commonly the commercial justification for decisions that result in power and water reduction programs, recycling programs, sourcing of green materials, and other sustainable design practices for retailers and developers. We will share our varying perspectives on the more qualitative issues, which may in fact be slightly more difficult to discuss, since they are inherently harder to measure. To me, it’s all about the overlap between personal values and the choices we make as consumers – the things that make us feel good, and connected to something bigger than ourselves – and it’s clear that sustainability is an increasing priority for shoppers. According to Nielsen’s March 2012 report, The Global, Socially-Conscious Consumer, “66 percent of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society.” And among that group, 66 percent believe companies need to ensure environmental sustainability – the highest percentage among all of the social causes tracked in Nielsen’s survey.

With customers paying more and more attention to green practices, responsible design is no longer just an added bonus for a new or newly renovated retail center. Doing the right thing to reduce energy consumption is a fundamental responsibility for any organization involved in the creation or development of a commercial retail environment. And this is where the place making part comes into the equation. A project that is designed and built with a commitment to making a difference through responsible construction practices will inevitably be a better more sustainable place where people want to gather. It will also be a more healthful environment when fresh air, natural light and the absence of toxic materials will contribute to the well being of the customer.

At Gensler, we have become increasingly focused on not only the technical side of delivering greener buildings to our clients, but also on the impact of our projects on the health and well being of the communities that these projects serve. We want our client’s centers to be successful and sustainable. We want them to be important and vital centers of activity within their neighborhoods. By focusing our attention on how our projects help to improve and support the social, cultural and economic life of the community during the design process we can work to ensure long term engagement and participation on behalf of the entire group of stakeholders, developers and customers alike.

Public-Private Place Making

The second conversation that I have been involved in, as this year’s chair of the CenterBuild general sessions committee, is the day two keynote panel discussion entitled “Public Space/Private Interest.” Robert Gibbs, PLA, ASLA, CNU-A – a planner and development consultant and charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism – will lead a conversation with John Tschiderer, vice president of development of Federal Realty Investment Trust, and Leo Valentino Mendez, Jr. AIA, the director of planning and design for Taubman. All three of these men are deeply involved in the creation of vital and sustaining commercial communities, and will offer their insights into the challenges and opportunities encountered as one establishes the business case for place making.

Designing great places for people to gather is a critical part of creating sustainable communities, and yet the dynamic between local government, property owners and private citizens is changing with the decline of public funding. Private entities – often real estate developers – have an exciting opportunity to position themselves as sustainable place makers and community creators. I look forward to these discussions and hope you’ll join us in Phoenix.

And click here to read more of my thoughts on sustainable practices recently featured in National Real Estate Investor magazine.

Maureen Boyer is the co-managing director of Gensler´s Sao Paulo office, from which she also leads the firm’s global retail centers practice. With over 25 years of experience in design, project management and construction management, Maureen focuses on reinventing and redeveloping retail environments with a balanced emphasis on architecture and interior design. Through her continuous research of ever-changing consumer behavior and shopping trends, Maureen executes a uniquely customized solution for her clients and their customers. Contact her at
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