Tips of the Trade: 12 Tips for Greening Your Retail Space

As retailers, you are committed to a prosperous and sustainable future for your businesses. High-quality products and great services are keys to success. But what else?

Greening your retail helps achieve long-term sustainability. There are many quantifiable benefits, such as reduced energy bills and lower repair and replacement costs. Also, greener stores make healthier and happier employees and customers. Plus, green stores add value to your brands and images. Today’s consumers are increasingly conscious about contributing to a healthier environment and they are more attracted to brands that share their values.

Thankfully, there are many ways to green your store without paying higher premiums. To do this, a forward-thinking mindset and careful planning are critical.

Simple Three Rs Principle for Green Retail

Green retail follows the familiar Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The goal is to reduce waste of all forms and conserve natural resources. This simple principle can help you make sustainable decisions on everything from site selection and exterior landscaping to interior design and material selection.

1. Urban Sites

Consider dense areas for your store. These sites, especially those along bus lines, enjoy higher foot (and bike) traffic. Also, such locations allow you, employees, and customers to travel to the store without driving, which reduces CO2 emissions and lowers carbon footprints.

For more information on local urban sites, a good place to start is

You can further encourage the use of alternative transportation by installing bike racks. Your employees and customers will appreciate the effort. Cycling has become more popular in our city thanks to Mayor Michael Coleman’s initiatives like the Bicentennial Bikeways Plan and 2 by 2012, so the simple act of encouraging biking makes much sense. And it shows your commitment to greener stores and a greener Columbus.

2. Native Landscaping

A green store shows from its outside. Landscaping with native species significantly reduces water consumption. Indigenous plants, such as trillium, bloodroot, wild geranium, butterfly weed and milkweed, are drought-tolerant and can survive on natural rainfall quantities after initial establishment. No sprinklers are needed. The only investment is the additional topsoil these native species require.

The Midwest Native Plant Society and Oakland Nursery provide more information on native landscaping.

3. Building Envelope

A well-sealed and insulated building envelope is one of the most efficient ways to conserve energy. Be sure to ask the property owner about the property’s energy history. You should also arrange for an energy audit to help identify problems such as air leaks and missing insulation. The auditor also will come up with an action plan that you (and the building owner) can use to improve the property’s energy efficiency.

Companies like WattWorks and Pro Energy Consultants provide energy analysis and audit services.

4. Efficient Plumbing Fixtures

Another easy way to reduce water consumption is using low-flow plumbing fixtures. Take, for example, the use of waterless urinals and one-gallon-per-flush toilets can reduce water usage by 60 percent.

5. Efficient Appliances

To ensure productivity, what’s more important than high-efficiency appliances? When buying new appliances, look for the types with energy-star labeled because they are more efficient, and therefore save you on operating costs. When buying used appliances, which cost less upfront, be sure to consider their hidden maintenance and repair costs. Trust only equipment dealers that you are familiar with, and be sure to ask for the used equipment’s expected lifetime. When you factor in maintenance and operating costs, it is possible new equipment, with higher efficiency, may actually be less expensive in the long run.

6. Optimize Artificial Light

Naturally you want a well-lit space for your merchandise. But an over-lit space looks like a discount-store. Use artificial light wisely can reduce energy use while creating the right kind of atmosphere for your store. Try to identify the overall light level and create a series of focal points with accent spot lights to highlight your merchandise. Think about doing more with less.

Also, consider using compact florescent light bulbs. Even though they cost more than conventional incandescent light bulbs, they last 10 times more and use only a quarter of the energy. The LED light is becoming popular, too. Its technology is advancing and application is expanding.

Another key to saving energy is to adjust light level in response to different seasons and times of a day. When lighting is not needed, simply turn it off.

7. Maximize Natural Light

Natural light can brighten our mood. So, make the most use of it for your store. Stores have wide frontages are the best. But even if you have small storefront and your store has a narrow floor plan, you can still brighten your store by painting its interior white or light colors. Also, you can use reflective materials or mirrors to help bounce off natural light. Our project to revamp the front space for Glass Axis Studio and Gallery shows maximizing the use of natural light.

8. Local, Recycled & Reclaimed Materials

Now, what about the built-out? First, consider reusing anything available in the existing space. Before any necessary demolition, take note and document the materials you could reuse. When building new, try to use materials from local sources. They do not cost more and have a faster lead time.

Materials with high recycled content are your best choices. They have become more affordable and expanded in variety. Take flooring materials as an example, rubber flooring and carpet tile with high recycled content are great for retail settings because they last for longer and can be replaced easily. World Floor Covering Association provides useful information and resources about green flooring materials.

Also, you can use salvaged materials. They vary a great deal in terms of cost and quality. Be sure to familiarize yourself with different salvaged materials, their sources, and suppliers. National suppliers, like Elmwood Reclaimed Timber, provide a wide variety of wood species, finishes and price range. Some local salvage places are Columbus Architectural Salvage and Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

9. Low Health Impact Materials

Green retails are also defined by the use of low health impact materials. By using low-emitting and non-toxic paints, coatings, adhesives, and building materials, your stores help minimize off-gassing of harmful materials like volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. Resourceful suppliers such as Greenovate will help you make appropriate choices.

10. Waste Management

With all the problems related to landfills, we are obligated to minimize waste. Retail waste management contains two parts: to minimize construction waste during renovation and to reduce waste during business operation.

Construction waste can be minimized by planning ahead and arranging recycling programs with companies listed on SWACO’s website. For waste management during business operation, you should first know about the kinds of waste your retail produces, and the amount of them. Then, identify effective ways to recycle or donate them before throwing them away. There are companies like Eartha Limited that offer customized programs to recycle and compost your stores’ wastes.

11. Modularity & Kit-of-parts Construction

Design shelving and other wall fixtures to the standard size of sheet materials, which is 4ft. x 8 ft., to minimize scrap pieces. When building custom fixtures, limit their types or use modular units to create variety. Consider kit-of-parts construction techniques because components can be demounted or disassembled easily for moving or future use.

12. Green Education

Now you have done all the right things to go green, your staff and customers should know about them. Simply create a green information board and put it in a prominent place in your store. It helps your customers know your efforts of greening your retail, giving them another reason to buy from your store.  Again, your green store is part of your brand, and so let your store, its design and environment represent your value.

– Tim Lai & Eliza Ho