Shopping centres are not the first thing to come to mind when thinking about sustainability. Those palaces of consumerism chewing through water and electricity, while shoppers wander along brightly-lit walkways; always buying, buying, buying.
But what if their energy usage could be slashed and they were transformed into sources of renewable energy, with solar panels on roof space and rainwater harvesting – all while making more money for retailers?
Earlier this month, the Living Future Institute Australia launched the Brickworks Living Building Challenge Design Competition, a new global design competition that aims to reimagine retail centres.
It calls on designers, environmental experts, architects, students, and even schoolchildren to submit ideas to Frasers Property on how it can make its new centre in Melbourne’s Burwood East a flagship of sustainability.
As well as stores , the 12,000 sq m development will incorporate a 4,800 sq m supermarket, a childcare centre, a gym, a pharmacy and a medical centre.
“We’re asking designers to come up with ideas on how to create the most sustainable retail centre in the world on a particular site,” says Stephen Choi, vice-chair of the Living Future Institute of Australia. “We’re asking if it can be done. The answer is we don’t really know, and we don’t know how it will be done – which is exactly why we’re doing a design competition.”
Choi says the competition has been launched to try to improve the green credentials of Australia’s retail industry , which is “regrettably grounded in excess and waste.”
Exact data on how retail buildings in Australia impact the environment is not collected, and large retail developments like shopping centres are not bound by the same energy efficiency reporting requirements as large commercial buildings. Yet not-for-profit group Catalyst estimates the sector accounts for about 5% of Australia’s total national carbon emissions, largely through the use of energy for heating, cooling, and lighting. Alarmingly, that figure is “projected to grow”, according to Catalyst.
Performance is key to the $15,000 cash prize competition, with entrants asked to design a building that can produce more energy than it consumes. That means it needs to be net zero water, treating as much water as is used onsite, or exporting cleaner water to surrounding sites, have zero construction waste, and offset all building emissions, amongst other requirements.
A separate competition is also running for primary school children in the Whitehorse area, asking them what they think the most sustainable shopping centre in the world would look like. The winning school will have a solar installation built on site.
“You never know”, Choi says, “they’ll probably come up with some amazing stuff, as they’re not burdened by what we think reality is. And that’s what the competition is about … imagining.”
Although the competition centres on Frasers Property’s Brickworks site, the company has not committed to using any of the winning designs in its final development.
“We don’t know what the designs are going to look like so we can’t commit to anything yet, and it’s very difficult for us to say now whether we’re going to use them”, says Paolo Bevilacqua, Frasers Property’s general manager sustainability, but adds that they’re “not going to dismiss good ideas”.
Frasers Property has already been making waves for its green retail buildings. Last year it completed Australia’s first and only 6 star Green Star rated shopping centre (as certified by the Green Building Council of Australia).
The Ponds Shopping Centre in Kellyville Ridge, New South Wales, uses passive design to bring natural ventilation and light into the main mall. As well as reducing electricity bills, Bevilacqua says this provides a “more pleasant environment” than an air-conditioned space because of its connection to the outdoors.
Other features include a rainwater harvesting system for reuse in toilet flushing and landscape irrigation, and a 100 kW rooftop solar photovoltaic system that generates enough energy to power the lighting used in the carpark, the common areas and the external areas.
All in all, Bevilacqua says that the centre produces about 30% less carbon emissions than an equivalent new build. Interestingly, he admits the company didn’t find it very challenging to get the 6 star Green Star rating at The Ponds, so it got involved with the Living Building Challenge to go one step further.
Impressive as the environmental concerns are, there’s a strong financial motivation too. The $250,000 of sustainability features at The Ponds are expected to deliver operational savings of $45,000 a year.
Green and healthy buildings have also been shown to boost staff productivity, just as workplaces with pleasing aesthetics do. On top of this, research shows that if you can increase the amount of time shoppers spend in malls, the amount of money spent also increases – by around 1.3% for every 1% increase in ‘dwell time’. Similarly a recent report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), found customers are also likely to stay longer in stores with natural surroundings, buy more from them, and pay a higher price for products than they would elsewhere.
Bevilacqua says that the WorldGBC’s attempt to quantify the link between green retail centres and commercial success is “a key piece that had been missing”.
He says: “It’s too easy for developers just to keep doing what they’re doing and not aim for sustainable practices. People resist change. So if there’s no incentive, they won’t do it. Demonstration of some of the projects that have done it, and done it without much complexity, will go a long way to getting everyone on board.”
Bevilacqua suggests other measures that could help green the retail property sector could include implementing a mandatory declaration of energy efficiency, raising the energy efficiency requirements of the building code, and removing red tape to allow retail centres to become “significant sources of renewable energy generation for the grid” (for example, by installing solar panels on roof space).
In the meantime, he says, developers should concentrate on building new green retail centres, and retrofitting existing ones, so that the retail sector plays a bigger role in fighting climate change, while enjoying commercial prosperity.
Read article at The Guardian