To LEED or not to LEED? That is the question.

New shades of green are popping up everywhere these days, and the retail industry is no exception. Retailers have a unique opportunity in lightening their environmental footprint – they can make environmentally-conscious choices and changes both in the products they sell, and in the retail setting where they sell.

Timberland recently completed the process to achieve LEED certification in two of its New England retail stores. The achievement is notable and the intent noble … but at what expense? Below, Timberland’s Greg Rainforth shares his observation of the certification process:

Why would any sane retail company voluntarily go through a long, laborious, time-consuming, detailed, and expensive process just to be able to hang a plaque in its stores certifying that they were built to certain “green” standards? Especially when green practices already played a significant role in its demolition, construction, and operational processes? Is the output worth the input? The answer is really “yes,” and “no.”

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system was created by the US Green Building Council and is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings and retail spaces. The LEED system provides real and measurable effects of a building’s environmental and sustainability impact. Its 3rd party indifference and extensive objective criteria make LEED the undisputed authority in certifying who is really building green vs. those that just claim to.

Timberland’s decision to seek LEED certification for two of our new specialty stores was rooted in our desire to both verify the “greenness” of our current demolition, building and operational processes by an independent party as well as improve on them so that we could be confident that we’re doing as much as possible to reduce our environmental impact in building and running our retail stores. We felt it worth the effort to go through this process to set a standard by which all of our other specialty stores will be built…a standard that has bite, one that can’t be disputed as having a real and measurable impact on the environment.

We are proud of our achievement for being the first mall-based retailer to achieve LEED certification. We are equally proud of the level of certification with which we achieved: “Gold” for our Northshore Mall, Peabody, MA location and “Silver” for our Rockingham Mall, Salem, NH store. However, the process in getting certification was extremely time consuming. The incremental impact on internal resources was enormous and the incremental dollar cost was not immaterial, though it should be noted that the extra expense was NOT in the actual build-out of the stores (indeed we found that building green did not add that great of an expense at all), but in the administrative help required to navigate through the LEED certification process itself.

At end of the day, it’s nice to have a peg to hang our hat on. We now have a minimum standard to act as a blueprint for all of our future stores…a blueprint that has been certified by an independent party as having a meaningful impact on the environment. However, we will not be going through the formal certification for future stores. It’s too much of an internal distraction and too expensive. For Timberland, it will be enough to say that all future stores will be built to the same, or higher, green standards. Future stores may not have a nice shiny LEED plaque hanging on their walls, but their reduced environmental costs will be no less impactful.

The real question is what’s next? How can we top ourselves? There are some processes, materials, and approaches that now go beyond LEED. Now is not the time to take a breather…we can’t rest on our laurels. Though a great standard has been achieved with LEED certification, we must continually evolve the standard to incorporate new and better materials and practices…the race has just begin…come join us!

Greg Rainforth, Senior Manager of Real Estate and Construction

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