The 2007 ICSC Spring Convention will be remembered as the year sustainable design went mainstream. Dozens of developers were talking of their first significant steps toward adopting green techniques in upcoming projects. And the sense of excitement about the move toward creating more environmentally friendly projects was palpable.

ICSC was in on the action itself, unveiling a Green Pavilion between the North and Central Halls that featured presentations and examples of green technologies and building techniques.

“The Green Pavilion is representative of the new focus on sustainability,” says Terry Brown, CEO of Edens & Avant. “It's coming along very quickly. The hope is that we all have to find a way to make the economics work.”

Brown acknowledged that Edens & Avant is exploring how it can incorporate these strategies in its ongoing development and redevelopment efforts.

And there are tons of examples of projects to pick from. For example, regional mall REIT Macerich Co. is working on a sustainable redevelopment of an existing property called Santa Monica Place from an indoor into an outdoor center, which will include such features as energy-efficient lighting, storm water systems, and water efficient landscaping. The approximately 600,000-square-foot development will be the first LEED-certified project for Macerich.

REITs take the lead

They are far from alone. “All of the big REITs we work with — Macerich, General Growth Properties, CBL & Associates — are very interested in sustainable design and they all want to do it,” says Tipton Housewright, principal with architecture firm Omniplan.

Colm Macken, president and CEO of Shea Properties, adds that across the country cities are angling to get developers to build environmentally friendly mixed-use projects as a way to ease traffic.

“I think the trend is going toward mixed-use and toward green,” Macken says.

For example, the Town of Markham in Canada and the Remington Group announced what they are calling the largest environmentally friendly mixed-use development in North America. The $3 billion project broke ground last month.

The trend is also moving overseas.

Architecture firm Callison unveiled what it says will be the first environmentally friendly project in China. The 1.5-million-square-foot Central Walk project will be located in the city of Shenzen. The project will include green space, optimized energy performance and a green roof, among other features.

Further, the fledgling trend got a major boost after the show when CB Richard Ellis Inc., the largest commercial real estate brokerage, announced it has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2010. That includes working with the owners and tenants of the 1.7 billion square feet of commercial space that CBRE manages to reduce carbon emissions and save energy. (Of that, about 74 million square feet in CBRE's portfolio is retail space in the United States.)

One of the biggest challenges developers talked about was that because the industry is only at the beginning of incorporating green design, there are no established best practices. Many are looking to the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program for guidance.

But developers say that there will be a lot of experimentation beyond the Green Building Council's certification program as they figure out what works, what doesn't and how it will all affect the bottom line.