Green Shopping Centers

Image: CC license Light Speed Photography/Flickr

By Robert Kravitz of Altura Solutions

Quick. Think back to last year when you started your post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping. Compared to 2008 and 2009, most retailers reported a significant sales boost in 2010 and you more than likely noticed stores and shopping centers were considerably busier. In fact, some shopping centers and big-box retailers even reported that although sales did not meet 2007 figures, they were surprised just how busy—and lucrative—the shopping season turned out to be.

In fact, a good indication of just how much things had improved was offered by looking at the parking lot of a busy shopping center just north of Chicago. Located in a moderate to upscale suburban area with acres of parking, many shoppers complained they had to drive “around and around” looking for a spot. Although finding a parking space and then shopping were their primary concerns, a few shoppers also became concerned about the fuel and money they were wasting looking for a place to park.*

And rightfully so. According to Cruising for Parking, a study published in 2006 by the Department of Urban Planning, University of California, in an urban setting, it can take roughly 15 minutes to find a parking space in a congested shopping area. If the car gets 20 miles to the gallon, which might be optimistic in stop-and-go traffic, and gas costs $4 per gallon, each 15 minutes looking for a parking space uses about a quarter of a gallon of gas and costs about $1.

Now multiply this times thousands of cars and you can see how thousands of gallons of gas costing thousands of dollars was wasted just looking for parking at this one center. Wouldn’t you think a more sustainable, environmentally preferable parking system would be available?

There is. At the Sunway Pyramid shopping center in Malaysia, one of the largest malls in Asia, instead of driving around the giant lot looking for a parking space, shoppers line up at key entries and are notified when and where spots open up. Typically, even during the busiest of times, the system speeds up the parking process considerably.

Although it does not allow shoppers to choose where they park, by guiding them quickly to the next available space, cruising for parking is eliminated, as is wasting fuel and related costs.  The system also stems a lot of parking frustration.

Similar systems are available in Europe at shopping centers and major airports. They are just one example of how shopping centers around the globe are trying to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint.

When Trees Disappear, So Will the Toilet Paper

The outdoor “intelligent” parking system at the Sunway Pyramid is just one way this center is going Green and helping the local community becoming more sustainable. They are doing a number of things inside as well.

For instance, water conservation is at the top of their sustainable objectives, according to Klaus Reichardt, chief executive officer and founder of Waterless Co. LLC, manufacturers of no-water urinal systems and other restroom products.

“Malaysia is a tropical country with ample rainfall,” he says. “However, it has ongoing problems providing enough fresh, potable water to meet the needs of its growing population and industry.”

As a result, all of the men’s rooms in the shopping complex have installed waterless urinals, saving as much as 40,000 gallons of water annually per urinal. And to give shoppers something to think about while in the restrooms—and to encourage sustainability—signs are posted in all the center’s restrooms that read, “When the trees disappear, so will the toilet paper.”

This shopping center is certainly not alone in its Green and sustainable efforts. Centers around the globe are joining the ever-growing Green chorus.

For instance, one tree planted in a shopping center can require as much as 9,000 gallons of water annually. Because of this, many shopping centers in dry or water-limited areas of the world such as Dubai, Chile, Brazil, Singapore, and Bahrain now install preserved palms and pine trees made from actual palm and pine trees. The process is eco-friendly, the trees long lasting and durable, and the tree replicas require little maintenance and absolutely no water.

Other centers around the world also are trying to find ways to reduce heating and air conditioning costs, which, even with the most efficient of systems, can require huge amounts of costly energy. To alleviate some of this energy consumption, green roofs are becoming very common on shopping locations around the world. The roofs deflect the sun’s energy so it is not absorbed into the building.

Also, the glass installed can save power and cut HVAC needs. At Vincom Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – a 25-story business and shopping complex with more than 250 stores that opened last year – what is considered one of the most advanced “low-E” glass systems has been installed. Although studies are not complete, it is strongly believed that air conditioning costs are far less than comparable facilities in this part of the world without the low-E glass. The lower usage also helps reduce greenhouse emissions and energy consumption.

Playing Catch Up

Although there are many other examples of how international shopping centers are becoming Greener and more sustainable, it also is true they are in “catch-up mode” when compared to other types of facilities, according to Stephen Ashkin, chief executive office of Sustainable Dashboard Tools LLC, an online system that helps facility managers and businesses monitor their use of natural resources.

“However, this is changing and changing fast,” he says.

Ashkin sites various reasons global shopping developers and operators are getting more Green-focused but at the top of the list is cost savings and the impact of organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED for Retail Program.

“A fairly recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that while building a Green shopping location can cost about 10 percent more [than a non-Green center], it can result in a nearly 35 percent energy savings annually,” he says. “This is very significant because these centers have huge energy demands, and, in many parts of the world, shopping centers are not just for shopping, they are the new [indoor] town squares where people congregate socially for all kinds of activities.”

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Retail was first introduced as a pilot program in 2007. It provides guidelines and honors high-performance, sustainable retail locations such as department stores, super centers, banks, and big box stores.

“Just like the LEED program in general, when it first was introduced, developers and managers were slow to incorporate its guidelines,” Ashkin says. “However, it does appear now the momentum has grown significantly.”**

Again there are a number of monetary reasons for this. According to USGBC studies, Green retail facilities owners/developers can expect some or all of the following benefits:

  • 7.5 percent increase in building values;
  • 6.6 percent improvement in ROI (return on investment);
  • 3.5 percent increase in occupancy;
  • 3 percent rent increase;
  • 30 to 50 percent decrease in energy costs;
  • 35 percent decrease in carbon emissions;
  • 40 percent decrease in water use;
  • 70 percent reduction in solid waste; and
  • 8 to 9 percent reduction in overall operating costs.

What About the U.S.?

The focus of this article was to discuss how shopping centers around the globe are becoming Greener and more sustainable. It would be a major oversight to forget what is happening here in the United States. Virtually every major retailer including Kohl’s, Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, as well as banks and scores of smaller companies, are now building and operating in a more sustainable manner. Often this is done in “stand-alone” locations or as part of a shopping centers environmental program.  Ashkin says cost savings again are a major reason they are doing this.

“The facts speak for themselves,” he says. “A more sustainable building is simply more efficiently operated, and this results in cost savings.”

However, when it comes to retailers, Ashkin sites another reason.

“Retailers know that without power to heat, cool, and light the stores, they are out of business. They are embracing ways to stretch the resource we have now while encouraging researchers to find new energy sources to keep stores open and in business for decades to come.”

Robert Kravitz is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, hotel, hospitality, and healthcare industries.  He may be reached via his web site at

* It is estimated that shopping centers should have five parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of building area to handle busy times of the year such as before Christmas.

** LEED for Retail was formally introduced in 2009. It offers two retail certification rating paths: New Construction & Major Renovations and Commercial Interiors. Although it is similar to the standard LEED certification systems, it offers more options, allowing retailers and shopping center developers/owners greater flexibility in earning LEED points.