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No Passing Fad

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The retail industry seems caught in a limbo of sorts as the nation’s merchants anxiously wonder just how much worse things will get before they start to get better. But as chains put their expansion plans on hold and cut back on capital improvements and other spending across the board, there is one area of opportunity that seems to be thriving: green building.

Regardless of whether retailers are being driven primarily by concern about global warming and the environment or panic over rising energy costs (for most, I think, it’s the latter), there is no mistaking that sustainability initiatives are taking front and center stage these days. Indeed, the action and interest is such that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to launch a retail-specific Web portal later this year that will centralize information regarding environmental compliance, sustainability and pollution-prevention practices applicable to the retail sector. It also will provide access to all retail-related environmental compliance information within the EPA’s Web site.

A good snapshot of how green building and sustainability are impacting the retail industry is provided in this current issue, in our special wrap-up coverage of Chain Store Age’s first annual Green4Retail (G4R) conference (see page 2A). The event was a resounding success, with attendance nearly double our expectations.

It’s worth noting that two of the featured speakers at G4R, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s Department Stores, have since expanded their commitment to sustainability. Beginning this fall, Kohl’s will be pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for all stores built from the ground up.

Additionally, Kohl’s has earned the EPA’s Energy Star label for 50 of its stores nationwide. It is the largest group of retail buildings (excluding supermarkets) to earn the label in the history of ENERGY STAR. (The ENERGY STAR label designates commercial buildings that rate in the top 25% of facilities in the nation for energy efficiency.)

As for J.C. Penney, it is joining the swelling ranks of retailers engaged in hosting arrangements for renewable-energy systems. The chain is installing solar-power systems on the rooftop of 10 stores (six locations in New Jersey, and four in California), and a wind-turbine system at its 1.6-million-sq.-ft. distribution center in Reno, Nev. The installations, expected to be complete in November, will provide immediate savings through lower-than-utility solar-energy costs and a long-term energy hedge for nearly 25% of the energy used at the stores in the pilot project. The retailer will purchase the solar-generated electricity under a SunPower Access power-purchase agreement.

J.C. Penney also has set itself an ambitious goal: It plans to attain ENERGY STAR status at 200 or more stores by 2011.

For those skeptics who have long argued that green building and sustainability were passing fads, the actions of Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and other like-minded retailers should prove otherwise. Not only is green building gaining momentum as a retail building strategy, but it is rapidly becoming the new industry standard.