LEED by Example

Certification can be marketing differentiator for retailers.

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

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It’s the green thing to do, and it ultimately can also save you some green. But c-store retailers have been a bit red in the face when it comes to building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified stores.

LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) 10 years ago, yet only four certified c-store locations could be verified at press time: two Kum & Go locations, a Kwik Trip and a Kangaroo Express.

Nick Schaffer, manager of the commercial-real-estate sector for USGBC, says that may be because retail is inclined toward “quick build, low cost,” and c-stores in particular tend to have standard designs across the board. “So it’s sort of an overhaul of what they typically do,” he says.

That said, the buzz around LEED has filtered into the convenience segment, where more projects have gone through initial registration—including several from Royal Farms, Kwik Trip and others—and are embracing LEED as a “core piece of their brand,” according to Schaffer. “It’s something these types of companies are starting to integrate into what they do,” he says. (At press time, paperwork also had been filed for a new 7-Eleven store in DeLand, Fla.) Retailers looking into LEED certification typically want to know two things:

How much will it cost me and what’s the ROI?

How difficult is it going to be?

The first question is the most complex. Of course, there’s a cost for the actual certification, with project registration $900 to $1,200, and certification for a store starting at $2,250, with additional costs depending on square footage, USGBC membership and an expedited process.

As for the actual equipment, the key is running the numbers and payback. “If I charted the costs of the last 20 stores we built, you would be unable to pick the two LEED stores out of the group,” says John Feldman, vice president of construction for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go.

Some costs ranged from 5% to 10% more, but, “This is compared to the very efficient stores we have been building,” he says. As for the ROI, “We believe the energy-conservation elements will have an approximate five-year payback.”

Such payback is key if energy-conservation practices are to become mainstream. “Most clients wouldn’t even touch it if they’re not getting beneath a two- to three-year payback on the incremental cost differences between technologies,” says Wayne Howell, principal for Princeton, N.J.-based Clive Samuels & Associates Inc., part of Emerson’s Retail Solutions group. The company provides refrigeration, electrical, lighting, HVAC and other design services. “In most cases, a building is undergoing renovation within five to seven years anyway,” Howell says. “So to put a technology in that won’t pay back in three years or less really makes no economic sense.”

However, there are numerous state and local rebates and other incentives to help offset costs. Such enticements can vary greatly, according to Schaffer. In Nevada, for example, green buildings can earn a 25% to 35% reduction in property taxes. In Chicago, there is an expedited permitting process for builders going for LEED certification.

C-stores can even get green incentives from their utility companies. Lezah Preston, national accounts manager for Largo, Fla.- based ElectraLED Inc., says, “Because we are such an energy-starved country, they’ve even got electric companies that are willing to finance the switch to LED.” For example, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. provides a $65 to $100 rebate per door for some of ElectraLED’s refrigerated case lighting products.

Some LED products, she says, are comparable in price with their less-efficient counterparts but can mean a 75% energy savings. She estimates a range of less than 12 months to just over 24 months for ROI on most LEDs, though “with our LED track lights, there is an immediate return compared to conventional track lighting. When you start multiplying that energy savings by 50 stores or 100 stores, it really adds up.” Schaffer of USGBC says that coming to the table with a bit of knowledge can help pare down costs. “If you are somewhat experienced, where you at least understand what you’re going for and you talk with your vendors, it really shouldn’t cost you anything more,” he says. “Green products these days are pricewise very comparable, and many times even cheaper than a nongreen counterpart because a lot of that is recycled content.”

So, then, just how does LEED work? The LEED rating system includes credits accrued in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Portions of a checklist, provided by USGBC, can help determine if a store already is on its way to LEED.

Kum & Go LEEDs the Way

For West Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification was a natural extension of the company’s green efforts. John Feldman, vice president of construction, says protecting the environment there dates back to the company’s alternative-fuel offerings in the 1970s. “Many of our customers understand, respect and reward our commitment with their business,” he says.

At press time, Kum & Go had the distinction of having two of the four LEED-certified c-stores in the country, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. And one of the stores is even LEED Silver. (There are four point-based levels of LEED: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.) Among Kum & Go’s efforts:

For lighting, which can earn LEED energy and atmosphere points, the company included a high-efficiency lighting system in the retail area. Feldman says, “Not only did we use efficient fixture and lamp technology, but we also worked hard to put the light exactly where it is needed.” The company also used LED canopy lighting.

For materials and resources points, Feldman’s crew made several efforts. “We used regional materials to minimize the energy used to transport brick, gypsum board and concrete aggregate, all mined and manufactured in-state,” he says. Recyclables also played a role: “We placed a special emphasis on the use of recycled materials, especially steel and crushed, recycled concrete.” The company even went above and beyond there. “One thing for which we did not receive a point was the use of crushed, waste concrete that came from concrete plant waste,” he says. To have received a point, it would have had to have been postconsumer waste. Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do by keeping tons of waste concrete out of the landfill.

For sustainable site points, the company provides carpool parking and electric-car charging.

The costs for going LEED “were not significantly higher” than other new company stores, he says. And the company was also able to save time, thanks to prior green efforts. “We had the advantage of having built a few dozen stores that would have been very close to qualifying for LEED certification, before we undertook these projects,” he says. “It did take extra time to fine-tune some of the design elements, and significant time for documentation. However, we do not believe being LEED slowed our actual construction process. As a matter of fact, our LEED Silver store was constructed in under 90 days from groundbreaking to opening.

“Our mantra throughout these projects was to do what made engineering, financial and operational sense and would matter to a typical customer. Customers understand things like clean water in their local streams and rivers, energy efficiency and rational use of recycled and regional materials.”

The company has seen another benefit: “We have found that cities take us very seriously when we tell them we built an environmentally friendly store, even if the proposed store is not slated for LEED certification.”

Kum & Go plans to certify at least one more new build this year and incorporate many of the same designs and practices into all new construction. “We are working on simplifying and standardizing the documentation and submission processes so it will become practical to certify more stores,” Feldman says.

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