By  on April 8, 2008

A growing number of retailers are adopting green building practices.

A toilet that costs $7,000 may sound outlandish enough to raise an eyebrow or two, and hefty price tag aside, one that's in a bathroom with no toilet paper could easily induce panic.

But soon enough, shoppers who make a pit stop at Lorenzo Hadar's newest boutique in Los Angeles can check out just such a thing.

The toilet, manufactured by Japanese company Toto, features bidet jets and an adjustable seat temperature, and is just one of myriad green elements in the under-construction boutique, among them a $1,400 Dyson Airblade hand dryer, rooftop solar panels to generate an estimated 70 to 95 percent of the store's energy and clothing racks made of recycled materials.

The store, named H.L.N.R. to differentiate it from Hadar's other H Lorenzo boutiques, is scheduled to open later this month.

The paperless store, which will generate e-mail receipts rather than printed ones and has no toilet paper or paper towels to be found, occupies about 4,000 square feet on West Hollywood's Robertson Boulevard.

"It was a tremendous challenge. You have to coordinate with a huge number of people, but from an environmental standpoint, it's incredibly well worth it," said Steven Trussell, the charm-and-trinket designer behind jewelry line I.O.D. who also serves as creative director for H Lorenzo stores and H.L.N.R.

The project has 80 feet of storefront window space covered with 3M window film to cut down on the UV rays — good for the clothing in the store and for saving energy — and sustainable hangers and shopping bags.

The design elements help to conserve energy and reduce waste and emissions, but businesses aren't pursuing sustainability just out of social responsibility — they can make money by selling products that are environmentally friendly and save even more through resulting drops in operational costs and overhead.

Using building materials that are recycled, sustainable and environmentally responsible are key parts of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, the benchmark for environmentally friendly design.The U.S. Green Building Council promulgates the LEED standards, rating the level of "green-ness," ranging from basic to platinum levels, based on the integration of elements such as solar panels, reclaimed water, natural ventilation and the use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

"Lately we've seen a tremendous increase in interest from the retail sector," said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the USGBC. "Wal-Mart, L.L. Bean, REI, Target, Kohl's, a Nike store and some Timberland stores are going green, and there are a lot of shopping centers that are getting in on it, too."

By next year, 80 percent of corporate America is expected to be engaged in environmental sustainability at least 16 percent of the time, and 20 percent will be engaged in green 60 percent of the time, according to a 2007 McGraw Hill report.

In 2004, green construction was valued at $4.51 billion, a figure that's reached $12 billion today and is projected to be $60 billion by 2010.

According to USGBC estimates, green buildings pay for themselves in one to two years and can deliver as much as 25 to 40 percent return on investment — a particularly significant amount if a company is building a large number of stores. A $4 investment per square foot in building green nets a $58-per-square-foot benefit over 20 years, according to a 2003 report by California's Sustainable Building Task Force.

Katz and others say that green design needs the retail industry's support, particularly that of larger chains with broad geographic reach. With public exposure and bulk-purchasing power, retail rollouts, also called "volume-build" projects, have incredible potential to help push sustainable design into the mainstream.

Wal-Mart, for example, which has two green superstores, in Colorado and Texas, decided in 2006 to launch an initiative to support sustainability and to encourage customers to buy environmentally friendly goods, and even mall developers are starting to get into the game.

"We're doing a lot more environmentally friendly things these days, from using the right lightbulbs in our center stores and offices to changing roofs to save on energy costs," said Bob Michaels, president and chief operating officer of General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest mall operator. "It's a very slow process. One thing is, in a new development, you can do a lot more than with existing developments. This is not something you're going to do all at once."But challenges remain in getting retailers to adopt green building practices. "Education is always a challenge, regardless of what sector we are in — some people don't see the benefits," Katz said.

One big stumbling block can be collecting and filing the extensive amount of documentation for LEED certification.

Each building requires individual submission, making the process a labor-intensive one for retailers with multiple locations.

What's more, new construction is utterly variable: Municipal design requirements can vary from location to location, and retailers frequently re-brand, remodel, reposition and rebuild their stores to attract shoppers' attention. The small margins and quick turnarounds that tend to drive retail projects compound the challenge.

What's more, the up-front costs for establishing green retail locations also can be quite high.

For example, Trussell said the cost of opening the H.L.N.R. boutique was more than twice the cost of opening a traditional store, but Hadar has a long-term lease and is committed to the location.

"Retail is coming on board, but it's much slower to do so because people tend to change practice when it's required of them, especially in a corporate or institutional setting," said Ellen Strickland, who owns Livingreen, a California-based chain that supplies sustainable construction and design materials.

Particularly for smaller retailers with thinner profit margins, Strickland said, it currently makes financial sense not to make some of those changes when avoidable due to some of the infrastructure. "That's why the [building] trades are some of the last to make changes."

For those reasons, the USGBC is now trying to streamline a LEED process for chain retailers who do large-scale store rollouts, and spent months collecting feedback from the 14,000 USGBC members, building industry professionals and major retailers.

"I think that once we start seeing more and more projects go through certification, they can talk about the benefits they're seeing and that will motivate more retailers to go through the process," Katz said.

Nationwide chains that take advantage of solar panels, for example, can acquire credits by saving energy on traditional energy grids that can be used against energy bills, savings that can theoretically be passed to consumers."The message [is that] it can be done practically and can save money over time. It doesn't have to involve sacrifice to be green," Trussell said.

Strickland said she's seen her commercial and trade-related business strongly increase over the past year or two, and that there's a stronger influence by trades to lead the way in product development.

"It's very exciting to get designers and builders in on it because their expertise is much needed and they help drive demand," she said. "You just can't get away from green these days; it's becoming prevalent in every industry I can think of."

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