Big box shopping mall and MEC: Opposite ends of the Green Scale

Big box shopping malls, a cornerstone of retail success in our consumer driven world, reside on the opposite end of the ‘Green scale’ from Canada’s thriving retail chain of out door gear and clothing Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). While MEC has proven that green buildings can work for retailers, the big box shopping mall epitomizes all that has to change to achieve a ‘greener’ society. 

How many ways do shopping malls exemplify ‘what not-to-do’ in a greener world? Lets name a few:

– Shopping center parking lots are catch basins for storm water that drain salt, dirt and oil laden water into overloaded municipal systems.

– Site plans designed around the automobile consume acres of scarce agricultural land to create parking lots that are only occupied during shopping hours. 

– Natural features of building sites such as hills, trees, native vegetation and water sources are routinely leveled to make way for the uniform box design.

– Low levels of natural light, particularly in enclosed malls, commit occupants to high levels of lighting, all year around. 

– Retail tenants redesign, rip out and rebuilds interiors spaces throwing tons of building material into municipal dumps.

– Energy inefficient malls heat/cool the great outdoors while attempting to heat/cool interior space.

On the other end of the scale, MEC is a company that “continues to look for ways to protect our wild spaces and reduce the ecological footprint of its business.” Acting on this belief over the past ten years MEC has constructed stand-alone ‘green’ retail locations in Edmonton (1989), Ottawa, Toronto (1998) and Winnipeg as well as a ‘green’ head office in Vancouver (described on the MEC website). Receipt of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System® (LEED) certification for its Winnipeg store makes MEC the only retail property owner in Canada to receive a LEED certification.

According to Corin Flood, a Project Coordinator for MEC construction programs, and now a Senior Project Coordinator for ReSource “There is no reason not to build to LEED.” He added, “The cost of LEED is recovered during the operating phase.”  In spite of this, not one of the 250 current Registrations for LEED at the Canada Green Building Council (CGBC) is from the retail sector.

MEC has demonstrated what can be achieved with energy efficient design and conservation. It has achieved energy costs of less than $1/square foot/year for all 10 MEC locations. Three MEC stores, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal are designed to the Natural Resources Canada stringent C-2000 standard that requires a building use 50% less energy than a conventional building.

According to Corin Flood each MEC building is ’a response to the opportunities presented by the location.'  In Montreal, a municipality renown for its overflowing storm water system, MEC has turned storm water into a resource.  Precipitation captured on the rooftop is stored in a 10,000-gallon underground cistern that supplies water to toilets and for irrigation of landscaped areas.  Excess water, along with parking lot runoff, is captured in an underground pond and percolated into the ground. The citern can fill from roof runoff after one thunderstorm, enough water for 7,500 flushes from MEC’s high efficiency toilets.

A focus of MEC’s Green Building program has been to reuse and recycle building material.  As part of an integrated design process MEC accounts for ‘embodied energy’, that is all the energy required to harvest, manufacture and transport materials to a construction site’.  According to Flood, “depending on the life of the building, you can use the equivalent amount of energy to construct the building as is used during its life time.”

MEC has applied the 'reuse and recycle' principal in all its newly constructed locations setting the example for retail urban intensification. At MEC Ottawa, for example 56% of the building materials by weight are used or derived from recycled sources.. At its Winnipeg location a large on-site building was retained and two others were dismantled such that 75% of the old building material could be recycled.

MEC is currently planning a new 'green retail' store in Ontario and a new distribution centre in British Columbia. It is also working on a Victoria, B.C. location that will be a tenant improvement under the LEED Canada Commercial Interior (CI) program.  The LEED (CI) program is under development and CGBC expects to launch it in September 2006 at the IDExpo in Toronto. 

U.S. retailers are ahead of Canada in adopting green building practices but still lagging the other commercial sectors. Recently investors have 'persuaded' The Home Depot, Lowe’s and the Simon Property to disclose their strategies and performance on energy efficiency and climate-related topics. The three companies collectively manage more than 500 million square feet of building space (Green Biz – March 2006). Other retailers such as MacDonalds, Starbucks and J.J.Bean have proceeded with green building initiatives.

Corin Flood indicated that MEC is willing to help any Canadian retailer wishing to adopt Green Building practices but to date there have been very few enquiries and no follow through on the ones there have been.


Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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