There have been whispers for years. Occasionally a press release would trickle in to our offices declaring that one project or another had been certified under the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Others may not have pursued certification, but had taken steps to use less energy or use environmentally friendly building techniques.
We were always encouraged to see companies making the move to cut down on waste during construction, manage stormwater runoff more effectively or even adopt alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power.
But for the most part those releases have been few and far between.
Yet all at once that trickle has become a maelstrom.
Just like mixed-use projects that seemingly came out of nowhere to command attention at dozens of developers booths at the ICSC Spring Convention a few years ago, this year the chorus was about what was being built (or rebuilt) green.
Not only that, but there was a palpable sense of excitement in how these developments were described. Developers did not seem as if they were dragging their feet and adapting because there was some mandate. Instead, they talked of being pioneers trying to set the standard for green projects that doesn't adversely impact the bottom line.
It is a stunning and most welcome development.
Retail is arguably the most prominent of all property types. That puts owners in a unique position of influence. By setting the standard and aggressively adopting sustainable techniques, retail developers can take a leading role and set a positive example for both other commercial property sectors and society at large.
In the past, one of the prime arguments against green techniques is that they were too costly. Today, though, after years of steep inflation in construction materials prices and with volatility in energy prices, building green isn‘t that much more expensive than going the conventional route.
Women's Wear Daily in a report last November laid out how developers could actually raise profits by adopting green standards. The premium for green construction is now just 2 percent — not 10 or 20 percent as is commonly thought — which translates roughly to $3 to $5 per square foot in construction costs. Yet over the life of the building, those techniques could lead to savings that dwarf the up-front premium.
That should be a powerful catalyst. But even beyond the monetary benefits, building green is the right thing to do. And the more high-profile firms and projects that take this on, the further the trend will spread.
In a most promising development, CB Richard Ellis Inc., the largest commercial real estate brokerage firm, announced as we were going to press that it had set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2010, which includes working with every owner and tenant at its 1.7 billion square foot portfolio of managed space. Of that, 74 million square feet is retail space in the United States.
That move alone sets a powerful precedent. Mall owners fully jumping into the fray will only strengthen the movement.