After my second year of co-chairing the only sustainability conference in the world to focus on retail store development, I can proudly say that ICSC RetailGreen is changing the equation of development. Just to scratch the surface, the changes in ‘normal’ construction since the conference began eight years ago are tremendous: LED lighting is ubiquitous even in the sacred space of the retail showroom floor, reclaimed woods and other materials abound, and operations managers for every major retailer and developer now use words like “carbon footprint” and “on-site power generation.”

These things are common now, and our RetailGreen programming committee takes care to provide “boots on the ground” workshops to update our development community with the latest technologies and guidelines. But it’s the cutting-edge programming that keeps our attendees coming back. Over the years, we’ve had experts teach us about biomimicry, green leases, and even carbon sequestration in concrete. We’ve had a member of Biosphere 2 tell us what it was like to live in a bubble in the desert for two years.

And this year was no different—Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine in New York, shared amazing stories about teaching kids to grow gardens on rooftops, sidewalks, and school walls in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City. Chris Walti, from Tesla, walked us through a brief history of the Tesla car lineup and gave us a glimpse of the future of energy use and storage: home, commercial, and utility batteries. The factory in Nevada that Tesla is building, the “Tesla Gigafactory,” is still in construction but has already started producing lithium ion batteries.

Along with Stephen and Chris, we heard about “smart” glass that adjusts to sunlight conditions in real time, landscape sprinkler controls that adjust to the weather, as well as a presentation of Hudson Yards, the 28-acre mixed-use development by Related Companies and Oxford Properties in Manhattan. In addition to the 17 million square feet of apartments, office space, and retail stores, the project will include a 13.3 megawatt Tri-Gen power plant and microgrid, and an on-site organic waste dehydration plant.

Every year, I enjoy getting back to the RetailGreen conference to see all my friends in the retail sustainability world, and every year I’m reminded that the work we’re doing is vital and important, and it’s making positive changes to the landscape of retail development.

Topics: Retail, Sustainability