Ok, maybe a tad of hyperbole, but I definitely did a doubletake when reading this article in the NY Times about the Greening of the Big Box. 'Green Plans in Blueprints for Retailers,' 11.07.08 - outlines some of the sustainable strategies being implemented around the country by the most unlikely of sources. I've seen a few articles discussing some of these ideas, such as plastic baseboards and moldings from used diapers (ewwwww.... ok, its from diaper manufacturing, kidding!) in a Walmart, wind turbines at a Chicago Chipotle, and waste heat recovery at a Florida pizza chain. And then there's the McDonald's with a green roof.
This picture made me stop in my tracks. A McDonald's with a green roof? Ok, so they call it a rooftop garden in the caption, but looks like an extensive green roof to me, and a pretty ratty one at that. But it exists. On a McDonalds. Whatever Chicago has done, we all need to learn from and bottle it. Perhaps it's just making evident the benefits. From the article: "Across the country, a race is under way among stores and fast-food restaurants to build environmentally friendly outlets, as a way to curry favor with consumers and to lower operating costs. Most chains are focusing on prototypes at the moment, but the trend could eventually change the look and function of thousands of stores."
The branding potential is one thing, but I doubt anyone is going to think McDs is eco-friendly, ever. The actual benefits of cost savings for operations seems to make the most financial sense for these companies. Some are doning the green-wash thing. Some are certifying through LEED and other mechanisms. Either way - the sheer economy of scale from cumulatively the companies mentioned in the article - Walmart, McDonalds, Kohls, Target, Office Depot, Subway, and Best Buy - and see what the overall benefits could be.
A couple of thoughts. First, this seems to me a real shift in mode for green roofs specifically. We've discussed this before, but there's going to be more of a need in the future to provide low-cost, high-function green roofs for big-box and other retail stores - as they are not going to be willing to invest $20-30 per square foot for these benefits - as the payback is too long. The industry is starting to catch up, but a $10 per square foot roof is the panacea - along with proper QA/QC and design that fits it to a site/roof and more importantly - a region/climate. As systems-approaches continue - the quality will decrease (at no fault to the system, just that it's not a one-size-fits-all product) and the failure rate will increase - due to poor design, install, and maintenance. We need to be wary of this commodification of green in this case (and others).
Second, if we can actually start leveraging this green 'building' into holistic green development - including low-impact development of sites - reduced parking lots or reconfigured lots with less expansive pavement, and overall stormwater management throughout... we'll be on to something. A couple of reasons. The sites will look better - which is a benefit to fast-food/big-box blight in cities. The sites will function better. The lack of urban heat island, polluting stormwater, and other negatives will be less costly to maintain, and aid in the overall community health. Inevitably, a whole-scale re-envisioning of the place of fast-food, drive-through, big-box, and other forms of development within our lifestyle and urban patterns need to be considered.
While green retailing may for some be lipstick on a pig, I'd say it's a valuable step in the right direction. In the future, we need to consider our peak-oil verging, unhealthy, unwalkable, auto-centric, and polluting communities - and see if there's a wider view we can take as well. Then again, if hell keeps freezing over like this in the future, that should at least provide some temporary relief from global climate change, right?