ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
By Frank Sherman
Savvy Retailers Enhance Environmental Performance through Store Design and Environmental Stewardship.
There are forces changing today’s retail environment — and the response has a distinctly green focus. Retailers and manufacturers see opportunity in environmental strategies that are sound business decisions and attract customers to their brand.
Today’s consumers want greener products, but have little tolerance for premium prices. Communities want greener development and are adopting ordinances that require better environmental performance from business operations. The cost of energy, materials, manufacturing, and transportation are increasing and margins are shrinking, while stockholder demand for profit continues.
In response to these challenges, savvy retailers are using green strategies to become more profitable while increasing brand awareness and loyalty. At the intersection of business and consumers is the retail store, where green business strategies play out.
On the one hand, you have industry leader Wal-Mart, which has extensive sustainable initiatives that are business driven, but does not see itself as a green company. Green business solutions have little visual impact on the brand, yet impact how stores are designed and operated. The new generation, energy-efficient super center (HE.2) is designed to be 25 percent more efficient than current stores, incorporating daylighting, LED signage, high-efficiency lighting, motion-activated LED lighting in freezer cases, integrated water-source heating and cooling, and building envelope improvements. Wal- Mart’s waste reduction strategies ripple through the supply chain, reducing packaging material and improving the efficiency of transporting products.
Wal-Mart is a huge company with a large environmental footprint. Improvement to store design and operations can have a significant impact on the environment, and the company’s leverage throughout the supply chain is impressive. Green solutions are part of a core business strategy that enables Wal- Mart to be a competitive industry leader.
L.L. Bean has taken another approach to achieve industry-leading success as a green retailer. Its green business strategies come from core brand values, since environmental stewardship is central to L.L. Bean’s mission and brand. Its products promote outdoor enjoyment, and the company views its retail outlets as outdoor lifestyle stores. The design of the new generation of L.L. Bean stores is an expression of the values on which the company was founded.
Bergmeyer Associates, Inc., Boston, an architecture and interiors firm specializing in retail design, was commissioned to develop a store prototype that matched the brand impact of L.L. Bean’s catalog, website and the iconic Freeport, Maine, store.
Many of the strategies Bergmeyer used in the design of the new L.L. Bean stores are representative of current trends in green retail design. Natural light is central to the design concept. The store uses salvaged and re-purposed materials. Materials and finishes are specified to be low-VOC emitting, and HVAC equipment provides high levels of outside air and better filtration. The lighting design incorporates energy-efficient fluorescent and ceramic metal halide lamps tied to daylight sensors, and low-flow fixtures reduce potable water demand.
The design of the new store speaks eloquently about the use of materials, with the Bergmeyer team taking its cues from the brand. “The merchandise is long-lasting and durable,” says Lewis Muhlfelder, a principal of Bergmeyer. “The icons of the brand look better with age and adapt over time.” Bergmeyer chose to use materials honestly, using re-purposed materials on the interior, but new materials that would age and develop a patina on the exterior. The detailing of the building takes its cues from how the products are made, with an emphasis on visible construction, overlapping seams and strong joints.
Salvaged and re-purposed materials throughout the store come with stories that employees love to share with customers. Whether it is the reclaimed wood used for flooring, or the wood from old pickle vats used by a local Maine craftsman to make the store fixtures, the materials and their stories speak to values of the brand.
With all the interest in green retailing, the suspicion that this is just another fad and marketing ploy is inevitable. For retailers who are serious about their sustainable business practices, however, demonstrating environmental performance and ongoing incremental improvement is important. For L.L. Bean, the cost of LEED certification was never an issue. Sustainability was part of the intrinsic value of the store. The design would see positive benefit in two to three years with an initial $75,000 cost premium. Once the cost and value of LEED certification was presented to the company, it was decided that all new projects would aim to achieve a minimum LEED Silver Rating.
Bergmeyer says that the company’s participation in the LEED-CI Retail Pilot has been a good experience. Staff has been responsive to questions, participants have been open to sharing their experience, and the pilot has been successful in customizing LEED credits to suit retail needs. Says Rachel Zsembery, AIA, LEED AP associate with Bergmeyer “LEED has reinforced some of the green business decisions the company was considering.”
To many, green retailing presents a dilemma. At the heart of the matter are issues about consumer attitudes, patterns of consumption and their overall effect on the environment. “Retail is about increasing consumption, where environmentalism is about conserving resources and reducing consumption,” says Muhlfelder. Green retailers are not asking consumers to buy less, but they are suggesting that the consumer make thoughtful choices and purchase products that have positive environmental impact from companies that strive to reduce their environmental footprint.
Surveys have indicated that consumers want green product choices, but are unwilling to pay a
premium for those choices. Therein lies the challenge for a sustainable business strategy: to offer
value and integrity, but remain cost competitive.
The best green retailers today promote their values, offer products that can have a positive environmental impact, and focus on the environmental efficiency of their operations and supply chain as core business improvement strategies. They lead by example and demonstrate that going green is good for business.