Taking a break from worrying about today's rocky business climate, a small group of owners and developers gathered at ICSC's REvent in February, to talk about the future of the shopping center industry. Much of the discussion focused on how to extend the industry's initial forays into green building and create projects that make even greater use of sustainable building techniques.

Design is the first signal of human intention, we are moving from the rights of humans to the rights of nature,” William McDonough, founding principal of William McDonough + Partners in Charlottesville, Va., told the 75 attendees gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the two-day event.

McDonough talked of shifting the design paradigm for buildings from one of cradle-to-grave to what he calls “cradle-to-cradle.” The idea is that when designing a structure, an architect should not just have in mind one intended use, but also what might come after the initial tenant has left. One example is a Nike office complex that is designed in a way that it could be easily converted into a multifamily property if Nike vacates the structure. Another example is a Gap Inc. office building in San Bruno, Calif., that features a grass roof.

“Wouldn't it be great if we could produce retail projects that encompass these elements?” McDonough asked. He pointed to the increasing numbers of developers seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council as evidence that a shift is already taking place.