High-Efficiency Retailing

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Let us now say that the idea of going green is far beyond the tree-hugging shadows of Birkenstocks past. In fact, when a company like Wal-Mart leads the way with high-efficiency stores that save 20 to 45 percent in energy costs, it's safe to say that the era of green retailing is upon us.

All it takes is a little digging, and one can find that the modern green movement blurs the line between the environment and the bottom line, with the two inextricably linked in balance sheets and utility bills. Retailers such as powersports and car dealerships can especially feel the connection with their 24/7 security systems, massive lighting setups and HVAC systems that can result in eye-popping operating costs.

As Jenny Frieze demonstrates with her dealership in this month's cover profile, operating an energy-efficient, environmentally responsible dealership can come with perks beyond the obvious cost savings. There's a novelty factor that's worth its weight in marketing, and employees can enjoy a more human-friendly environment bathed in natural lighting.

There are also examples in this special section of other powersports dealers taking an eco-friendly tack to business, all of whom can explain the benefits in real numbers.

The movement has already been embraced by a portion of the automobile industry. Toyota Motor Corp. expects to have 100 environmentally friendly dealerships, or just under 10 percent of its U.S. dealer network, by 2011. To read about one such store, check out the small piece on Caldwell Toyota-Scion ("Going Eco on the Automotive Side").

While still in its early stages, some say it's not out of the question that some of the building practices of the green movement may be soon be the retail standard. "I don't think we're very far from these things becoming codes and part of the way we do business," says Mark Gangi, chief of design for Gangi Architects in Los Angeles. "If you wanted to identify with this culture, it's time to step up and be a leader in this thing. If you're one of the laggers and are way behind, you're going to be pulled into compliance."

Getting started can be as simple as replacing your dealership lighting with energy-saving technology, opting for a more efficient HVAC system, or replacing your landscaping with drought-resistant native plants. Or, like with Frieze, you can build green tech into your ground-up construction. Green building is a more holistic approach to construction that involves everybody — property owner, architect, engineers, contractors and local building officials — from the get-go.

For those wondering about cost, most of those interviewed for our special report say that going green costs only about 5 to 7 percent above standard construction — as long as eco options are included from the beginning. Many states offer tax rebates and incentives for going green.

And the benefits (besides the proverbial saving of the planet)? Lower operating costs and marketing potential are two of the biggies. Another is the impact on employees and customers. Some studies have shown that natural light and fresh air improve employee retention. The California Energy Commission reports that naturally lit stores were found to have a 1 to 2 percent increase in the number of transactions a month.

And, according to a 2007 study by the Natural Marketing Institute, 30 percent of consumers say a company's environmental practices impact their decision whether or not to do business there. That's up 10 percent from 2006.

Of course there are some disadvantages, such as upfront capital costs and the impact geography plays on what technology can be used, but sitting down with a knowledgeable architect to discuss the options is likely the best way around these obstacles.