February 14, 2008

New LEED standards help retailers go green

  • Wachovia’s 300-branch expansion will offer the first big test of LEED for retail


    When LEED standards were established in 2002 they were aimed at new construction. While the U.S. Green Building Council has since expanded LEED to include other project types, it’s remained difficult for many retailers to comply since key criteria do not necessarily apply. But that’s about to change.

    Two retail pilot projects — LEED for Retail and LEED Volume — are now under way. The LEED for Retail effort includes tracks for both commercial interiors (CI) and new construction (NC), while the Volume pilot will allow retailers and other volume builders to certify all subsequent projects once an initial prototype has met the established criteria.

    The pilots are conducted through a rigorous, multistep process designed to gather feedback, draft, test and ultimately document point modifications and/or alternative compliance paths in new application guides.

    Photo by Callison/Chris Eden
    Wachovia’s new banks are being built with 60 percent recycled materials and designed to use 35 percent less energy for lighting. By the end of 2008, every new U.S. branch will be built to LEED specifications.

    Callison is participating in both pilots through our work with Wachovia Corp. The finacial services provider asked us to develop a prototype to support its brand expansion into the Western market, while reflecting the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

    The prototype consists of three baseline models that can be easily translated across regions. A flexible kit of parts, including finishes and signage, allows for regional adaptability and design standardization while presenting a consistent image for Wachovia.

    Promoting green design

    By 2010, Wachovia plans to open more than 300 branches designed and built in accordance with LEED for Retail standards. The company is also building a 1.2 million-square-foot corporate headquarters in accordance with LEED NC gold standards in Charlotte, N.C.

    By the end of 2008, every new Wachovia financial center opened throughout the United States will be built to LEED specifications.

    Southern California customers will be the first to experience the green banks in early 2008, when the new design debuts in Los Angeles. The banks will be built with 60 percent recycled materials and use 35 percent less lighting energy than the bank’s standard design.

    One of the most exciting opportunities with LEED for Retail is the potential for consumer outreach. Mass retailers have direct contact with large numbers of people.

    “It’s market transformation at a grass-roots level,” said Holley Henderson, an eco-consultant working with Callison on the pilot program.

    For example, Wachovia plans to promote green design and construction through educational displays in each branch. It also plans to provide commuting information such as public transit maps and safe bike routes, bike racks and preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles.

    What we’re learning through the pilot program is that issues over which the retailer doesn’t typically have control — such as parking, leased space and existing building systems — makes site selection and lease negotiation critical areas for LEED for Retail. Planning and real estate teams need to be educated about the requirements so that the selection criteria and lease terms reflect LEED goals.

    Retail standards

    How will LEED for Retail differ from its counterparts?

    According to Callison’s LEED certification manager, Cindy Davis, one of the main areas that require new interpretation has to do with how store occupancy will be determined.

    “Since the original LEED CI was developed for the workplace, points regarding lighting, for example, are based on the number of full-time employees,” Davis said.

    While retailers may have relatively few employees working in the store, there are many more people on site for shorter time periods.

    “Understanding how the work environment and consumer environment overlap is key to coming up with optimal solutions,” she said.

    High-volume LEED

    The Volume certification will depend in large part on policy decisions made by the retailer. Examples include committing to low-VOC materials for all its stores, or furniture made only from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.

    The idea is that U.S. Green Building Council will certify a given number of stores based on the prototype and a random site visit, thereby reducing the LEED documentation process for each location and addressing site-specific credits.

    In so doing, however, the U.S. Green Building Council needs to know the retailer is in it for the long haul — that stores will be built out according to the prototype. Retailers will need to establish specifications, show contracts with vendors and other documentation designed to demonstrate that the sustainable measures will be enacted repeatedly on a planned rollout.

    The key to success is strong owner commitment and a can-do team attitude — two things we’ve had plenty of on the Wachovia pilot project. It’s not easy breaking new ground, and it’s not especially glamorous. The work of making black-and-white decisions in a world of gray is painstaking and time-consuming.

    But the rewarding part of being part of any pilot is being able to have a say in how the final LEED product will end up. And a tool that makes green building an even easier choice for retailers is a payoff we’ll all benefit from.

    Sandie Pope is an associate principal at Callison. She has worked exclusively in retail for the past three decades.

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