InSITES: "GOING GREEN"
(CALIFORNIA CENTERS MAGAZINE) "Going Green” is the new catchphrase for the shopping center industry. A speech by former President Bill Clinton to the ICSC Spring Convention in 2006 encouraged the industry to set an example to developers in all sectors by building environmentally sensitive projects. This year’s Spring Convention contained an elaborate exhibit dedicated to sustainable building initiatives, offering examples of projects around the globe and the methods they used to conserve natural resources.
But in California, sustainable design is nothing new, encompassing everything from lighting to water usage to recycling and using recycled materials, according to developers and architects with projects there. At least 50 retail stores are pursuing Leader in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification,the current standard for sustainable design created by the United States Green Building Council. The Golden State has been “green” for years.
“The state of California has had its own energy code for quite some time,” said J. Tipton, (Tip) Housewright, a principal of Dallas-based architecture firm Omniplan. “The rest of the country is catching up.” The trend has been decades in the making. In fact, in 1978, the state established Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings, a code that has been regularly updated, most recently in 2005. (The next update will be in 2008). Additionally, in December 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order requiring all new and renovated state-owned facilities meet the LEED Silver standard, with the goal of reducing electricity consumption in state buildings by 20% by 2015. Through the order, and the Green Action Building Plan, the state also hoped to push private developersinto observing sustainable practices.
Individual municipalities have done more: In December 2005, the Pasadena City Council passed an ordinance requiring all new commercial and residential construction to be LEED-Certified at a minimum. Developers exceeding the minimum qualify for a rebate from Pasadena Water and Power. Pleasonton, too, now requires a minimum of LEED Certified for commercial projects. “California has the advantage because there are codes and laws already on the books,” adds Lance Collins, a LEED-accredited senior designer at Long Beach, Calif.-based Perkowitz + Ruth Architects, which has advised several municipalities, including the cities of Long Beach, Pasadena and Los Angeles on their programs.
But few codes make specific provisions for the unique needs of shopping centers, which operate much longer hours than office projects. Even so, designers and developers say, retailers and the shopping center industry has been embracing “green” initiatives for quite some time, pursuing energy savings for more basic financial reasons. British supermarket chain Tesco has proclaimed its intention to build sustainable stores as it enters the United States in California, Nevada and Arizona with its Fresh and Easy concept. Few retailers have been as committed to “green” building as Wal-Mart, whose initiatives have ranged from changingits display lighting to LED to regulating idling by its truck drivers.
Major developers including Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises and Chicago-based General Growth Properties have created sustainable development divisions or initiatives. California developers are looking at each development project-by-project, adapting to each market’s needs. “Westfield historically has been a strong supporter of community and our efforts to make our shopping centers more environmentally friendly have continued, with an increased focus over the past year or two on developing a global approach to these sustainability issues,” said Frank Lowy, chairman of Sydney-based Westfield (which owns 24 centers in California), at the company’s annual meeting in May.
The initiatives being pursued or followed encompass a variety of construction elements. But each development requires a unique solution. “Most people are looking on a national basis,” said John M. Genovese, senior vice president of The Macerich Co., Santa Monica, which owns regional malls throughout the state. Macerich is now beginning to look at various opportunities to improve the sustainability of its centers, Genovese said, ranging from relatively simple equipment replacements to using recycled materials during a renovation process. “All of our projects are different, and our initiatives depend on the situation.The chance to be green is great for the environment.”
Lighting, the largest single energy cost, has long been a focus of sustainability: The installation of skylights in both new enclosed malls and retrofits was as much about reducing energy costs as ambience.“Natural lighting is something stores in the rest of the country can focus on,” said Alexandre Sims, a project manager for the Irvine, Calif., office ofarchitectural and engineering firm BSW International. “There is a definite benefit to being in more natural light.” Even more affordably, lamps can easily be substituted in the same fixtures, Housewright suggests. Westfield, which has 24 centers in California, is engaged in a major interior and exterior lighting retrofit, and has completed 12 centers in San Diego, Los Angeles and New Jersey.
Another possibility is a center producing energy itself, such as with solar panels, which would seem particularly ideal in largely sunny areas such as California.Westfield, in fact, has recently completed a substitution of continuous electric power to solarpowered photocells on two Southern California centers, and is evaluating the results for a possible portfoliowide retrofit. Macerich is examining some possible initiatives, including placing solar panels on the covering of surface parking.
But solar cells are not an easy panacea. The panels are heavy, and few existing centers can bear the additional rooftop weight. Yet roofing can still provide a number of alternatives. Most centers in the 1980s were built with a simple “black”roof.Today’s technology can include an Energy Star-rated single-ply white roofing membrane, which reflects more light and is therefore cooler. “That can reduce the energy load by 8% to 10%, without adding a lot of weight,” said Mary Kell, a LEED-accredited architect with BSW International. “Another easy step is to look at the mechanical, such as HVAC, and go to Energy Star-rated units,”Collins said.Even restaurants can begin to utilize more efficient appliances, Sims adds.
Energy is only one component of sustainability. Recycling of waste materials has long been practiced at existing centers around the country. Now, recycled materials may be used in center construction. “More and more materials are coming out that were recycled just for that purpose,” Genovese said. In fact, Macerich recycled 83% of materials resulting from the demolition of the vacant anchor spaces that precipitated the current redevelopment at The Oaks in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “You can look at everything, from the materials you use, to new flooring” Housewright said.“Even reusing a building’s shell is sustainable.”
Another major factor is water. Conservation of water resources is increasingly becoming a concern throughout thestate, even to determining the viability of some developments. “In some areas, you couldn’t build unless you had enough water credits,” Sims said. “It even affected the ability to do a simple addition.”
Westfield is testing a “weather track” smart irrigation system in San Diego, which tracks weather forecasts and adjusts irrigation schedules accordingly. Landscaping retrofits now are done with droughtresistant plants, the company told California Centers. Using pervious paving, which permits more runoff to run back into the ground, instead of asphalt in parking lots is another way to conserve water. Low-flow plumbing fixtures are another relatively simple replacement recommended by several designers.
Other initiatives are less obvious, such as using more local materials to cut back on transportation. Regardless of which systems and techniques are used, going green can have a number of benefits beyond long-term sensitivity to the environment. Lowering energy consumption can obviously save costs over the long-term, and increasingly communities are either requiring sustainable initiatives or look morefavorably on them during the permitting process.
“One thing that we’ve seen is that [green developments] attract a different [more upscale] tenant,” Collins observed. Those tenants tend to pay higher rents, creating yet another benefit. Another possibility, Genovese notes, is that excess power could be sold back to the community’s grid system. With all of these initiatives, however, few centers are pursuing LEED certification. More than 50 projects in the state have applied for the designation, according to the USGBC, but big boxes dominate the list.
But just because a project hasn’t applied for the certification doesn’t mean it isn’t compliant, Kell notes. “The process is a bit complicated,entails a lot of paperwork and is very expensive, ” Kell said. “There are a lot of buildings that are LEED Silver, but have not been certified. But the benefit is still there.”
Green building could cost marginally more, with estimates ranging from as little as 2% for basic compliance to up to 10% to achieve LEED Platinum status. But costs are declining, speeding payback and making sustainable building even more attractive. And as a result, no one expects “green” building to go the way of other development trends, such as the power center craze or design fads. The benefits – financial, environmental and social – are too strong to be ignored. And as usual with development trends, California has been ahead of the curve. “It is a true change, a necessity,” Collins said. “And something that is soon to be mandatory.
-CALIFORNIA CENTERS MAGAZINE (949-305-8600)
Jim Nowak, CCIM