Sustainable Principles Guide Building Development

The Green4Retail (G4R) conference session “Tips for Going Green” offered valuable insights into the business reasons for incorporating sustainability into a retail organization, as well as practical tips for launching the green process.

Moderated by Ken Golovko, formerly the senior mechanical engineer for Dublin, Ohio-based WD Partners (he has since left the firm), the session featured presentations by Kevin O’Donnell, creative director of Schorleaf, Phoenix, and Rachel Zsembery, associate with Bergmeyer Associates, Boston, who outlined her firm’s sustainable efforts on behalf of L.L. Bean.

All three speakers drove home the importance of integrating sustainability goals into all aspects of, and departments within, a company.

“Integrated, coordinated store design is essential, with everyone embracing the end goal,” said Golovko, who added that companies must take a holistic approach to sustainability, and gaining customer appreciation and profits along the way.

Indeed, gaining profit, while benefiting the planet, is the mantra of green companies. According to Schorleaf ’s O’Donnell, a new kind of development logic is guiding building design and construction—one that incorporates what O’Donnell called “eco-logic.”

“Ideal buildings follow eco-logic principles,” he explained, “which are inserted as part of the ‘planet, place and profit’ principles of sustainable development.”

To benefit the planet, O’Donnell said, designers must rethink all materials sourcing and focus on reducing waste. As part of the focus on place, it is important to “tap into culture and character when designing a retail space. Locally cultivate materials,” O’Donnell advised.

Examples include repurposed waste such as flooring made from scraps left over from other jobs, or surplus wine-bottle corks used to create tiles.

“Some companies reclaim barns, schools and other buildings,” O’Donnell added. “There is a growing trend toward harvesting rapidly renewable resources to use as building materials, including bamboo and mesquite. Another way to rethink of waste as resources is to retrieve lumber that has sunk to the bottom of river beds or retrieving fallen trees.”

Profit, the final piece of sustainable development principles, is comprised of two camps, according to O’Donnell. In one camp are capital expenditures and start-up; maintenance is in the other.

“The two camps need to work together to achieve profit,” O’Donnell said.

Ultimately, “sustainability is about sustaining human existence,” O’Donnell said. “The planet itself will survive long after us. We have to find a way to ensure that our existence on it can be sustained.”

L.L. Bean: Rachel Zsembery of Bergmeyer Associates highlighted the greening of L.L. Bean, for which the design firm has created a store prototype that is not only “unmistakably L.L. Bean, but also inclusive of the company’s 90-year history of environmental stewardship,” Zsembery told G4R attendees.

For clients interested in incorporating some level of sustainability into its design, Bergmeyer “gets started by understanding the goals of that particular retailer,” Zsembery explained.

“It’s important to first establish a framework for the decision-making process,” she added. “What level of green are you seeking? Are you green, greener or greenest?”

L.L. Bean clearly falls under the “greenest” category. For its new prototype, which has opened in three locations (Albany, N.Y.; Mansfield, Mass.; and South Windsor, Conn.), the retailer followed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) checklist, “which served as a benchmarking exercise,” Zsembery said. Corporate- and retail-level green initiatives were identified, which allowed the design firm and the retailer to pursue developers willing to help develop a green site or building shell and were amenable to lease items such as longer terms and utility incentives.

The L.L. Bean prototype uses tangible items that customers can see, feel and understand. These include increased daylight wherever possible, reclaimed and repurposed materials for fixtures and finishes, and bike racks for employees and customers. The retailer used an eco-friendly milk paint, which gives a warm feel to the painted surfaces in addition to having zero VOC levels. Bike racks were installed for employees and customers who want to use alternative transportation.

In addition, the prototype incorporates items that customers may not see but can learn about and appreciate while in the store, such as rubber flooring (with recycled materials), fixtures made of reclaimed barnboard (from dismantled L.L. Bean buildings) and low-flow water fixtures and waterless urinals.

A third level of sustainability, the designer said, consists of elements that are completely invisible to the consumer. These include the use of only low- or no-VOC paints and adhesives; energy-management systems that monitor temperature and humidity; daylighting augmented by energy-efficient lighting; occupancy sensors; and a daylighting harvesting system. Also, the general contractor diverted more than 90% of the construction waste from the landfill.

“It was important to look at the economy of materials,” explained Zsembery. “Could we use less? Can we do double-duty with some of the materials in the space? We had to make all of those decisions up front, so there would be no overhaul later.”

Regional maps and signage incorporated into the store design work to foster a connection between the store and the local community and the environment.