[Part 1 of a series of posts from ICSC’s RetailGreen conference.]

In the first General Session of the ICSC RetailGreen conference in Phoenix last month, I moderated a panel discussion called “Disrupt and Interrupt”.  Since it was the beginning of the conference, we wanted to speak broadly about sustainability issues that retail developers encounter when planning projects and business initiatives.  The panel consisted of Audi Banny of Estée Lauder, George Caraghiaur of Simon Property Group, Jim Hanna of Starbucks, and Riggs Kubiak of Honest Buildings.  Some of my questions were pre-planned, but we had fun taking live questions through an email account and a scrolling twitter-feed which we projected above the stage.  It all worked quite well.  Audience members kept me well-stocked with comments and questions.

What I learned was there is tremendous innovation happening in the retail development space.  Ms. Banny’s description of the solar power fields and the raw organic materials that Estée Lauder uses for its operations and products showed me that it is not just usual suspects doing good things.  Mr. Caraghiaur said the bottom line is driving innovation, but it’s not limiting it.  Along with other retailers and mall owners, Simon is using its position as the largest retail REIT in the US to help create a new sustainability “scorecard”.  Think LEED that would focus on all aspects of retail development and operations.  Mr Kubiak is the CEO and co-founder of Honest Buildings, a web portal that combines aspects of LinkedIn, Yelp, and Google maps.  By logging into the site, a visitor can search a database of over 700,000 buildings indexed in the US, to discover a building’s opening date, size, tenants, energy consumption, energy ratings, certifications, and much more.  It’s a young company, but I have a feeling we’re going to hear about it more and more.

Hurricane Sandy provided our liveliest moments. Everyone had something to say about the devastating storm that struck the northeast three weeks before the conference.  Mr. Hanna was not alone when he said that Starbucks had to close over 1000 stores during the aftermath of the storm.  We’re beyond the question of whether to believe in climate change or not; we need our business models to be flexible enough to adapt with the reality of increasingly dangerous weather events, agreed many in the audience.  The good news was that more than a few panelists and audience members stated that solar panels on their store roofs within the path of the storm all survived and continued to perform very well.

The opening session was a popular one, but it was only an introduction to the conference!  More detailed work sessions and round tables were yet to come.

Topics: Retail, Sustainability, Events