Green building experts have known how to make buildings more energy efficient for a long time, but the building industry is slow to change – especially in retail. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one company that’s challenging the status quo:
Green building experts have known how to make buildings more energy efficient for a long time, but the building industry is slow to change, especially in retail. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on one company that’s challenging the status quo:
At first glance, the Mountain Equipment Co-op looks like your
typical outdoor retailer. You’ve got the
rows of protein bars and the freeze dried camping
food. Forest green backpacks hang from the wall and candy-colored kayaks hang from the ceiling,
but what makes this Canadian company unique is what you can’t see. Almost everything, the displays, the floors, even the concrete, is
Architect Linda Chapman designed the store, which is in Ottawa – Canada’s capital. She says part of her assignment was to reuse as much as she possibly could.
“A lot of the steel structure that you see, the steel beams and the steel joists here are all from the old building that was on site here. It actually saved us time because there was a real backlog and delay from ordering steel at the time we were building.”
Being environmentally responsible is part of Mountain Equipment Co-op’s mission. It’s a non-profit cooperative. It’s million and a half members pay a small fee and have a say in how the company is run. Mountain Equipment’s Mark VanKooy says their members want the company to reflect their own environmental values.
“They’re the ones really out there hiking, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, and it’s in their interest, I mean… most people realize the connection to environmental stewardship and the outdoors – that if you aren’t an environmental steward, you’re going to lose your wilderness and the outdoors and the places you like to do those things.”
That mission resonates with customers such as Trevor. He’s been a member of Mountain Equipment Co-op for almost 20 years.
“It shows me they’re forward looking, they’ve got a keen sense of awareness about the environment they’re in here… good corporate citizenry if you will. I’m very comfortable here.”
(sound of store)
Mountain Equipment Co-op has built eight stores – each greener than the last. When the Ottawa store was finished in 2000, it became the greenest retail building in Canada. In fact, there are too many features to mention. They seem to permeate every section of the building. It ranges from the wood floors salvaged from local barns to the high tech meters that control the intake of fresh air.
Mark VanKooy says it cost an extra 10 percent to construct the building, but they’ll get that back in energy savings over the next decade, and he says that’s a key point in trying to persuade others to follow their lead.
“Obviously, if it was twice as much to build the same building with the green building practices as it would be through standard construction practices, it wouldn’t be worth it, because even as a demonstration building, no one in their right mind is going to look at it and say oh, it’s a nice idea but its cost twice as much, yeah I’m going to do it.”
VanKooy gives lots of tours to architects and business people, but the building industry has been slow to adopt the idea. One of the biggest challenges is the way that buildings are typically constructed. Architects often come up with a plan without consulting the engineer or the construction manager, but in this case, they all sat down together from day one. They discussed each step in the process. The approach is called integrated design, and architect Linda Chapman says it ensured the environment was considered at every step along the way. She describes how the group chose materials to use in the walls.
“In terms of which one would have the highest recycled content, which one would have the best price, which one would be easiest to build…so that’s how decisions were made as a group.”
(sound in store)
The Mountain Equipment Co-op did receive a grant from the Canadian government, but funding for this kind of project has mostly dried up. Still, proponents say interest in green buildings is growing. According to the US Green Building Council, 5% of new commercial buildings last year met its strict environmental standards.
Retail stores such as Starbucks, Williams-Sonoma and the Gap have already built, or plan to build, green stores. In Canada, the Mountain Equipment Co-op has added two more, that are even more energy efficient, and were built without government help. They say if a nonprofit outdoor retailer can do it, a lot of other companies can as well.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.