Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Feature

Pictured above is Wal-Mart's experimental green,"eco-friendly" store in Aurora, Colorado.
Who Will Build the First All-Green Eco-Store in the U.S.?
UK Retailer Marks & Spencer is building two new stores in Scotland that currently come closest to being the most comprehensive green, "eco-stores" in the world. Will a U.S.-based retailer do the same in America soon?
Yesterday Natural~Specialty Food Memo (NSFM) reported that UK-retailer Marks & Spencer is building what are likely the most comprehensive green retail stores in the world to date. The stores are in Scotland and set to open next month. We also reported yesterday that a Whole Foods' store being built as the retail anchor of a new shopping center in Madison, Wisconsin is part of the shopping center developer's plans to build the center using strict green building guidlines established by LEED, the enviromental building association in the U.S. that uses the strictest "eco-design" standards.

NSFM also reported yesterday that California-based Safeway Stores, Inc. unvailed a new solar panel array on the rooftop of its Dublin, California store on Thursday. The solar panel system is designed to produce at least 25% of the store's electric power. The Dublin store is the first of 23 stores Safeway plans to have powered in part by similar solar panel arrays. You can read all three of these stories from yesterdays NSFM here.

Numerous other U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart, are launching green building and remodeling efforts for their stores. However, as of yet no U.S. retailer has announced a major "eco-store" building initiative on the scale of what Marks & Spencer is doing in Scotland in building its first two"eco-stores" there.

Wal-Mart has constructed two energy-efficent and "environmental-friendly" supercenters, one in McKinney, Texas, the other in Aurora, Colorado, which come close to the Marks & Spencer model. However the two stores are less comprehensive in their green design elements and use more carbon-based conventional energy sources than the Marks & Spencer stores. The two stores also doesn't use water recycling and reuse elements like those being incorporated into the M&S "eco-stores, " among other key environmental elements.

Wal-Mark has dubbed these two units "Experimental Stores." The stores are designed to serve as a green retail building laboratory for the chain in terms of learning how best to design, build and incorporate "eco-friendly" elements into future stores. The two stores will allow Wal-Mart to discover what works best (continuous improvement) and what doesn't work in these stores as the chain continues to search for ways to create even better green stores.

The Aurora, Colorado "Experimental Store" is the newest of the two. Its also the only one of the two that was build from the ground up. The McKinney, Texas store was originally a basic Walmart that was converted into a supercenter. It's the first of the two Experimental "eco-stores." Both stores were built in 2005. You can read about the green aspects of these two Wal-Mart "Experimental Stores" and take a virtual tour of the stores here.

These stores are part of a major, comprehensive environmental effort the chain's CEO Lee Scott announced in early 2006. (If you want to read an update on Wal-Mart's environmental programs at present this piece from today's provides a fairly good overview.)

It's now been two years since the experimental stores were built and Wal-Mart hasn't taken the next step which would be to make one of its new supercenter stores an environmental showcase, incorporating all that's worked best in the two "Experimental Stores" with today's latest "eco-building" innovations and new technologies. The renewable energy and green building fields are moving fast and many new innovations have come on the market in the last two years. Additionally, Wal-Mart didn't use all the green building materials and technology that was available in 2005 when it built the stores.

So where are we in terms of a U.S. retailer meeting Marks & Spencer's across the pond green retail building challenge?

Perhaps we need a contest. Something on the order of "America's Next Top Model" adapted for green store building. Maybe,"America's Best Green Store." Or more seriously perhaps what is needed is a "Green Retail" version of the $20 million NEXT prize, the multi-million dollar cash prize being offered to the first private company that can get a spacecraft on the moon. We could call it the "Green Building Challenge."

Rather than these two economic motivations for building the first comprehensive green retail store in the U.S.--one a bit tongue-in-cheek, the other more serious--NSFM believes that such a real, comprehensive "eco-store" will come soon in the U.S. not because there will be a big cash prize awaiting the winner but rather because it makes such good environmental, economic and marketing sense for a retailer to do it.

We also believe that Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Safeway are likely to be among the first U.S. retailers to build such a store from the ground-up based on their current environmental building commitments and the fact they have deep enough pockets to do so. Of course the REAL goal here isn't just a demonstration "eco-store" but rather for these and other retailers to begin building all of their stores this way and to remodel all of their existing stores to strict green building standards over time.

On the other hand it might not be any of these three retailers who is first. It might be a smaller chain like Publix or Wegmans, both grocers who have established strong environmental principles, and are on the cutting edge of green marketing. Or it might be another large chain like Kroger Co. or a mass merchandiser like Target. Both have made serious green principle commitments.

We also see the possibility it may be an independent or small chain that realizes what a great marketing tool it would be to build the first major "eco-store" in the U.S. and then follow that achievement up with a commitment to build all of its other stores using the same strict green building principles.

Further, nobody says it even has to be a food retailer (or even mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart or Target Stores) thats builds the first comprehensive ground-up "eco-store" in the U.S. For example, department store retailer Macy's has made a major commitment to green principals for it existing stores and we may see them create a real "eco-store" in one of their new store building projects. NSFM suggests it hopes the first retailer to build such an "eco-store" is a food retailer since supermarkets are most often the number one energy users out of all retail formats.

One small but growing drug store chain, Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, also could be in the running. The small chain currently has 17 stores in the Western U.S. and is using many green building principles in the construction of their new stores. They seem to have a major green building commitment but will need to do more if they want to call their stores comprehensive "eco stores."

We aren't suggesting by any means that the current efforts by Safeway, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and many others aren't good or positive. Rather, we're looking to the future and believe the industry is ready for a leader to step forward and match what Mark & Spencer (and to a lessor degree Tesco) is doing in the UK. In fact we commend these current green building efforts and see them as much more than marketing tools for these retailers. The retail companies realize doing good environmentally is both good for the planet and good for the bottom line.

We also believe the Federal government (and state governments) needs to establish a more comprehensive program to encourage retailers of all types to go greener with their new and existing stores. A package of market-based incentives like tax credits and other similar things would be ideal. The goal would be energy-use and water-use reduction in building and remodeling stores along with creating stores that reduce a company's overall carbon footprint.

Currently European and Canadian retailers are leading U.S-based retailers in green building. In addition to Mark & Spencer in the UK, Tesco, the Co-op chain and others are moving towards a real, comprehensive green building standard for all stores. In Canada Wal-Mart- Canada is currently building five new supercenters that are incorporating higher green building standards than Wal-Mart currently is using for new stores built in the U.S.

This green building leadership gap however is decreasing. And U.S. retailers are undertaking their green building initiatives without the strict environmental laws present in most European countries and in Canada, and without a comprehensive set of guidlines and economic incentives available to them, like those availible to European and Canadian retail companies.

NSFM is waiting with baited breath--and keyboard at hand--for that soon to be made announcement from a U.S. retail company that they are building the first, state of the art, comprehensive Green "eco-store" in the U.S. A store that utilizes today's cutting-edge green building and energy technology to the fullest in a comprehensive way. Who will that retailer be?

Learn More About Retailer's Who Are Launching Green Renewable Energy Programs

One of the most interesting and promising green developments among retailers is that so many of them are beginning to install solar panels on store roodtops--or are buying solar and wind generated power produced by third parties-- to help power their stores. Below is a brief list of retailers and there solar power initiatives that NSFM has identified for our readers.
> Macy's Department Stores is installing solar power systems and solar panels in 26 of its stores.
>Target Stores recently installed solar panels at four of its stores in California and announced it will do the same at 14 more stores starting later this year.
>Kohl's Department Stores announced it's converting 75% of its stores in California to solar power beginning in early to mid 2008.
>Wal-Mart recently began purchasing 20 million killowatt hours of solar-produced power for 22 of its stores in Hawaii and California from BP Solar, SunEdison and Powerlight Energy Co. Wal-Mart also is doing the same in many other parts of the country and currently has solar panels in use on the roofs of its Aurora, Colorado and McKinney,Texas Experimental Stores. The retailer also says it will install solar panels on the roofs of many other stores.
>Costco Wholesale recently installed its second solar powered system at its huge Lake Elsinore, California distribution center. The club retailer says it plans to install solar power systems at four more distribution centers in California and Hawaii.
>B.J's Wholesale Club has installed solar panels and systems on the rooftops of two of its stores located in Connecticut.
>Tesco, which is opening a chain of upscale convenence-style stores in the Western U.S., has installed a huge solar-power system and a rooftop of panels at its new multi-building 830,000 square-foot distribution center located in Riverside, Califronia. Tesco also is building its U.S. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores using many green building standards and says some of its stores will have rooftop solar panels and systems.
>Office Products retailer Staples recently completed the largest solar power installation in New England at its 300,000 sqaure-foot distribution center in Killingly, Connecticut.
>Safeway Stores introduced a solar power system yesterday for its 55,000 square-foot store in Dublin, Califronia. The store's rooftop contains more than 1,000 solar panels. The retailer said this system is the first of 23 (23 total stores) it plans to install this year and next. Safeway Stores also is purchasing 87,000 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy which the chain is using to power all 295 of its at-store gas stations as well as its corporate offices in Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, California.
>Whole Foods Market, Inc. is building a new store in a Madison, Wisconsin shopping center development that will use LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building standards which are the strictest in the U.S.


Cara said...

Have you seen what Canadian Retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op does with their new stores?

With natural daylighting, covered bike parking, green roofs, water recycling and more in their various stores, it seems uncharitable not to highlight their accomplishments in leading the way for large retailers working with sustainable design principles.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Thanks for the tip Cara. We weren't familar with Mountain Equipment Co-op. However we are now thanks to you.

Our focus in the retail area is primarily on stores that sell food in addition to non-foods (but along with food). However we like what ME Co-op is doing in the green retailing area and will be writing something about what they are doing soon. Thanks again. It's great tips like yours that we love.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo