NRF panel stresses sustainability

NEW YORK Brenda Mathison, director of environmental affairs at Best Buy laid it out to store operators at the National Retail Federation convention, when she said that, as regards the sustainability issue, “You are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

Becoming proactive on sustainability is critical if retailers are to participate in the development of a greening commercial environment and, at the very least, be prepared for the inevitable rules and regulations emerging all over the globe, said the speakers at NRF’s Creating the “Green”: Protecting the Environment and Your Bottom Line seminar.

Mathison noted that Best Buy is developing a new green initiatives in focus stores that the company gradually will expand as it opens new units. She pointed out that Best Buy is taking a more comprehensive look at green issues. Energy efficiencies, transportation, recycling, green facilities and green products all are elements that Best Buy is incorporating into its sustainability efforts. Critically, Best Buy is building measurement into each element of its green push to provide standards, verification and, ultimately, a way to satisfy observers and its own employees that the company is committed to sustainability as a method of making it not only a better corporate citizen, but a better retailer as well.

Kevin Hagen, director of corporate social responsibility for REI, noted that the sporting good retailer has discovered, through its own sustainability initiatives a range of new opportunities that have made it a more efficient retailer. REI has looked inward as it has sought methods of becoming greener. Although charitable donations have been part of REI’s historic commitment to social responsibility, giving even several million dollars in contribution ultimately doesn’t have nearly as big an impact as spending $300 million in various investments the company has to make as it pursues it business. For that reason, the company has reviewed various practices from building to buying introducing green innovations that sometimes pay off immediately in terms of cost savings and some that will provide long-term returns as REI gets ahead of resource markets and inevitable environmental legislation and regulation.

Justin Doak, manager, LEED Retail Sector, U.S Green Building Council, noted that the group is bringing its preliminary examination of specialized practices to a close. It plans to offer LEED rules tailored specifically to retail in the fall, which not only will provide guidelines for concerned retailers but also will solidify the outlook for cities that are or will adopt LEED concepts as part of their building codes.

Additionally, Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago’s Department of the Environment Commissioner, noted that her city is encouraging innovation across the board from government to retail and putting into place incentives for companies to adopt green practices. In terms of construction, that has included waving permit fees for green building projects. The results already are becoming apparent. She cited the care study of manufacturer F&F Foods, a company that conducted a green redesign project on a 150,000 square foot building. F&F spent $63,000 for an environmental audit and $722,000 for a retrofit. The result was a $296,000 cost savings annually and a pay back time of 2.65 years. The numbers suggest, as did the panelists, that green initiatives can generate returns beyond good will.