Say what you will about it, JCPenney is a survivor. The 106-year-old retailer has 1,093 stores lurking around the country, from Media, Pa. to Tempe, Ariz. Having made it through the rash of department store consolidations that gobbled up brands like Marshall Fields, and having fared better than some of its mid-range competitors — Sears and Montgomery Ward come to mind — JCPenney has adopted a new businesses strategy to stay relevant. Not surprisingly, given current trends, it’s now going green.
After launching an in-house eco-label, Simply Green, in March, and experimenting with green building techniques in a Denver store last year, the company announced in late October that it had broken ground on a LEED-to-be, 115,000-square-foot store in “The Village at Fairview,” a mixed-use development in a Dallas suburb.
The new store will use 41 percent less energy than a comparable building, feature landscaping that uses 50 percent less water than similar stores, employ low-flow plumbing fixtures, divert some 50 percent of construction waste from the landfill, and use an energy-efficient HVAC system, along with many other points the company has bulleted in a press release.
And while the project might be an example of what Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com and author of Strategies for the Green Economy calls “keeping up with the Scotts” — Lee, that is — JCPenney may be doing more than trying to keep pace with the new eco-standard-bearer, Wal-Mart. What seems to be the greenest part of this new JCPenney is not the building itself, but where it’s sited.
The Village at Fairview is a lifestyle center, the current euphemism-of-choice for the kind of downtown-impersonating outdoor malls that are so fashionable these days. The development has 200 acres to play with here, with Macy’s, Whole Foods, and The Container Store as Penney’s fellow anchor stores. But this will be a place to live and work, not just shop, with 200,000 square feet of office space and 1,000 multi-family residential units. “We actually are attempting to get closer to our customer with our new stores,” says Tim Lyons, a spokesperson for JCPenney. “We’re going where the population expands.”
That’s good business, of course, but it’s also good news. Such developments buck the old trend of mall building, when malls were regional creatures at lonely highway interchanges, intended to draw customers from the towns and suburbs around them. (Were this a redeveloped mall, a brownfield or greyfield, it would be even greener.) The definition of green building is expanding to encompass developments like these; a building might trade in a compact fluorescent light or two if the store is placed in an area that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people can reach by walking or taking the train. Under the next incarnation of LEED, dubbed LEED 2009 [PDF] or 3.0, buildings will earn more points for site: a green building set where folks have to drive 30 miles to get to it gets a whole lot browner, fast.
Not that lifestyle centers are always inherently greener; this one sits at an interchange of highway 121, far from downtown Dallas. One can assume the bulk of visitors will be driving there. And even if this is a successful new model, JCPenney doesn’t automatically become green by association: the majority of its stores are still going in strip malls or freestanding developments, according to Lyons. So far, only two stores are officially green, although some 200 will be remodeled to achieve Energy Star status in the next three years, and Lyons says the company has spent $100 million on green retrofits.
There’s one other complicating factor: As Wal-Mart found out in its own green research, 92 percent of a company’s environmental impact has to do with its products. “What a company sells has a much bigger impact than its lighting or ventilation systems or furnishings,” says Makower.
Still, JCPenney’s move is promising. And pretty soon, if green building advocates have their way, a LEED store won’t be press release-worthy. It will simply be the way we go about building, whether because of a legal mandate, a do-gooding desire, or, sure, just to keep up with the Scotts.