There are a number of more environmentally sustainable shopping options. Shopping centers are environmentally destructive, both because they provide consumers with a wide assortment of energy and resource intensive products and because they themselves require resources to be built and energy to operate. However, there is a positive trend of lower impact shopping centers and malls underway.
There are already a number of shopping malls that have gotten greener.
The 1.3 million square foot Danbury Fair Mall in Connecticut has installed a 750 kW Bloom Energy fuel cell system. The mall also recently installed new energy efficient exterior LED lighting and a thermoplastic white reflective roof. Their greening efforts do not stop there, in 2015, Danbury Fair will be adding more than 400 solar panels to the central roof areas.
One of the greener and most popular green shopping centers is located in Dublin, Ireland. This fall, St Stephen’s Shopping Centre was recognized for its outstanding efforts in sustainability. It was acknowledged by the Regional Chamber Awards 2014 for its contributions to the overall well-being of the community and the environment as well as sustainable business practices. They have reduced their energy use by 35 percent over the past two years and water usage by 75 percent. They have implemented a rainwater harvesting system, electric car charging points and the very latest Food To Water equipment, which is returning about 60,000 litres of water from waste food back to the water table. They are also involved in community outreach work, which includes a partnership with the Princes Trust to help almost 100 youths with work experience and employment. Not only is St. Stephen’s green it is also popular. Figures released in October revealed that a record 11.7 million people visited St. Stephen’s in the last 12 months.
To assist greener shopping centers there are some new tools that make it easier to track environmental sustainability in a retail setting. At the end of 2013, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) released its Property Efficiency Scorecard (pdf) at the annual RetailGreen Conference. The scorecard provides benchmarks for energy, water, waste and recycling, and green operations. Shopping center landlords can input data, compare their results to others and get suggestions for improvement. Access to the scorecard began in January 2014, and thus far there are an estimated 1000 users.
Online shopping is seeing steady growth and e-commerce has been shown to be greener than in-store shopping. The virtual mall may represent the truly green future of shopping. Although it is only in its earliest stages the convenience of online shopping has not yet become the experience that shoppers get in a mall. However, the technology already exists to recreate a more enticing experience online. If e-commerce keeps growing it may eclipse in-store shopping altogether and this would offer tremendous environmental benefits.