From: Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburg Post-Gazette
Published October 26, 2005 12:00 AM

More Retailers Building Environmentally Friendly Stores

The Levin Furniture construction team ran the numbers on using solar energy before building its Monroeville store, and they didn't look good. It would likely be 17 years before the panels would save enough in energy costs to pay for themselves.

President Robert Levin, who has an interest in environmental issues, decided to do it anyway. Now, more than a year and a shocking rise in energy costs later, it appears the investment may pay off at least a little sooner than expected.

Retailers are among the busiest builders on the American landscape, and they receive criticism for everything from the style of the structures to the traffic they attract. Driven by a mix of reasons from public relations to saving money to a desire to be more responsible, a growing number are experimenting with more environmentally sensitive and energy efficient stores.

Consumers may not notice when they shop at the new Recreational Equipment Inc. store at SouthSide Works that sensors are adjusting the lighting level based on the light coming through its massive windows. The chain from Kent, Wash., estimates those sensors, plus energy efficient light fixtures, provide a 33 percent energy savings as compared to the national standard.

O'Hara grocer Giant Eagle has been working on cutting down energy usage for a while and has managed to get about 80 percent of its company-owned retail stores certified under the U.S Department of Energy's Energy Star program, which emphasizes energy efficiency.

The refrigerator- and freezer-intensive grocery business overall is focusing attention on this area. The government estimates that a 10 percent reduction in energy costs for the average supermarket chain boosts profit margins by close to 6 percent, not bad in a business with slim margins. "It's definitely a good payback to do an Energy Star store," said jim lampl, Giant Eagle's director of conservation.

The benefits are less tangible for going a step further and trying to get a store certified under the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED, rating system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Employees and customers may appreciate the comfort of things such as increased natural light and fresh air that may be part of getting the certification, but the increased energy savings alone might not be enough to justify the investment, Mr. lampl said. "Those are things that are harder to measure."

Still in late 2004, the company opened the nation's first supermarket to be certified under the LEED green building rating system. The Brunswick, Ohio, grocery opened with more than 50 percent of its electrical energy supplied through wind generation, skylights equipped with sensors that adjusted electrical lighting use and a white reflective roof and increased insulation to allow easier cooling and heating.

The grocer is trying for the next step up, a LEED Silver rating, on the store it is remodeling on Centre Avenue in Shadyside. In addition to the other systems, this one will have a green roof planted with shrubs and flowers that should reduce air conditioning costs and slow water runoff.

Proof that the movement is gaining traction among retailers, Wal-Mart this summer opened its first experimental green supercenter in McKinney, Texas, and a second will open in Aurora, Colo., in the next few weeks.

At the Texas store, there are two wind turbines in the parking lot. The bigger one supplies energy to the store while the smaller version powers a sign. A strip of blue solar panels can be seen along one side of the store while transparent ones that double as skylights are used over parts of the interior.

Still, it may be awhile before the majority of retail construction moves toward alternative energy or environmentally aware design. Mr. Levin said many of his peers don't seem interested because the cost structure seems untenable. He said it may take something tangible, like more government incentives, to get the ball rolling.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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