Sustainable Design Within Retail Spaces Store Design Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

This essay is on Sustainable design within retail spaces store design (including the physical space of the store, as well as the merchandising fixtures, and products).  This paper will explore some different brands that utilize this sustainable design concept.

Introduction & Defining the Concept

The concept of sustainability is, for the most part, in the eye of the beholder.  In theory, sustainability reflects consumption that can be sustained indefinitely, implying that no non-renewable resources are used.  In practice, the term sustainable is applied more broadly along a spectrum where the actual amount of sustainability in the subject is moderate to high, though usually not total.  As applied to design, the concept of sustainability is focused on using a variety of tools, techniques, and designs that are sustainable.  It is rare that a building will be 100% sustainable, but concepts that contribute to sustainability have become the leading trend in building design in recent years.  It is taught in colleges, has become a specialized field within both architecture and retail design, and has received an inordinate amount of press.  Ultimately, the word sustainable is applied somewhat loosely, as long as the design incorporates several aspects of sustainability.

The concept of sustainability, as applied to design, encompasses several different features:  building components, finishes and furnishings, environmental quality, lighting and electrical systems, and regulations (Winchip, 2011).  Each of these factors needs to be taken into account when designing a sustainable building , living space or retail space.  Thus, each of these concepts will be analyzed in turn, to outline what sustainable design for retail looks like, and to trace its development.  This is a new field, as the definition of sustainable design was not fully codified until 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  First, sustainable design was defined as specifically differentiated from traditional design.  Second, the protection and management of natural resources is seen as the basis for economic and social development, and third, that health is a key element of sustainable design (Winchip, 2011).


For most of human history, everything was sustainable, but with rising populations and the exploitation of fossil fuel resources, we started to build the physical infrastructure of human societies in a non-sustainable manner. Buildings were made of non-sustainable materials, and powered by non-sustainable sources of energy.  The movement towards sustainability in building and space design was a response to the general movement towards sustainability that has come with the environmental movement.  By the 1970s, as the latter movement was emerging, the first small group of architects were starting to consider how modern architectural design "has veered too far from earlier reliance on natural principles, but after showing early promise, the green building movement lay dormant until the 1990s (Krygiel & Nies, 2008)

Sustainable design, in particular the Integrated Design Approach that encompasses sustainability in all aspects of a building's design, has evolved at the beginning of the 21st century. Where previously, there were some sustainable elements incorporated here and there, architects and design firms began to focus on the integrated approach.  Winchip (2011) argues that this integrated approach is one of the fundamental difference between traditional design and sustainable design.  Whereas traditional design is conducted by experts working independent of one another – they may never be in communication with one another – sustainable design requires the different experts in the design process to work together to create an integrated system.  This is a necessary element of sustainable design, because sustainability is increased when different elements work to support each other, towards the goals of sustainability as outlined above.

The use of environmental science is another key differentiator between sustainable design and traditional design.  Sustainability, especially in a fully-integrated commercial space, cannot be achieved without a significant amount of knowledge.  Traditional design, where sustainability is not an important consideration, can essentially use technology and non-sustainable techniques and materials to solve problems.  Not to discount the complexity of traditional design, but choosing and buying materials, and using fossil fuels to power a space, is simply easier.  Architects and designers needed to develop entirely new sets of skills in order to implement sustainable design, hence why this is now a specialty within the field and within academic study of design.

Since its inception, sustainable design elements have gone mainstream.  In part, this is a reflection of the marketplace demands. Clients wish to be seen as supporting sustainability initiatives, thus creating the market.  Yet, research has shown that only 15% of consumers treat sustainability as a major criteria in purchasing decisions, so the rapid ascension of sustainable design within its field cannot be solely attributed to market factors (Nidumolu, Prahalad & Rangaswami, 2009).  The field moved quickly from niche market to mainstream because across all industries, practitioners realized that sustainable concepts were innovation drivers.  Sustainability lowers costs, and provides companies with competitive advantages.  As more people entered the field and developed their knowledge, a snowball effect has occurred, where the pace of innovation is rising.  

Sustainable Design in Retail

Retail is the public face of a corporation, where it interacts with its customers.  Thus, retail spaces are perhaps the best opportunity to demonstrate a company's commitment to sustainably and the values that it embodies.  A sustainable corporate headquarters might be worth an article in the newspaper, but sustainable retail design is seen every day, by all of the company's customers and even its potential customers.  From a marketing perspective alone, there is a strong case for the development of sustainable retail spaces.  And so it has become that sustainable design has become a hallmark of the modern retail environment. 

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…design of a traditionally-designed store, because the building itself is substantially different.  


As an emerging field, there is little in the way of regulations governing when a building or retail space is considered to be sustainable.  Companies sometimes claim sustainability on rather spurious grounds, paving the way for dilution of the term and for consumer confusion, both of which are to the detriment of the sustainability movement.  One of the earlier codes for green building was LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a certification program that awards buildings and spaces that emphasize various elements of sustainability.  This program has been highly influential in the development of best practices, many of which are routinely incorporated into sustainable retail design. LEED certification covers building materials, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency and electricity usage.  There is a specific set of LEED certifications for retail spaces, and research has showed that eco-certified buildings have exhibited growth rates in line with other innovative products, which tend to grow at a faster rate than more established products, or in this case retail designs. Retail spaces with different eco-certifications remained popular during the economic downturn in many parts of the world, indicating the strength of the trend, and that many proponents do not see added cost to sustainable design (Fuerst, 2009).

Further Research 

Since there has been limited research on the impact of sustainability on retail design, this opens up the field to multiple areas of future exploration. While many of the traits of sustainable design are understood, studies could be conducted to investigate how these elements affect consumers.  These elements are intended to co-exist with conventional philosophies of retail design intended to drive revenues, and it is worth investigating the revenue effects of sustainable retail design.  Furthermore, as Nidumolu (2009) noted, the retail space is an important area for the creation and reinforcement of brand identity.  Because of that, it is important for retail design to appropriately convey attitudes about sustainability that will be attached to the corporate brand identity, and to make consumers want to associate themselves with that brand as an extension of their own self-identification.


Within the past ten years, sustainability has become one of the most important trends in retail design.  While adhering to the basic principles of retail design, including the emphasis on generating sales revenue, this category has emerged as popular because of consumer sentiment, in particular the need to identify with positive brand traits.  Further, as the field of sustainable design grows, the knowledge base becomes higher and the costs decline, lowering transaction costs for the adoption of sustainable technologies and concepts.  In the retail environment, the aesthetics of sustainable design elements – natural and recycled materials, natural lighting in particular – are currently favoured by consumers as a reaction to the artificial environments…

Sources Used in Document:


Contreras, J., Roth, H. & Lewis, M. (2011).  Toward a rational framework for sustainable building materials standards.  Standards Engineering. Vol. 63 (5)

Farr, D. (2008).  Sustainable Urbanism.  Wiley.

Fuerst, F. (2009).  Building momentum:  An analysis of investment trends in LEED and Energy Star-certified properties.  Journal of Retail and Leisure Property. Vol. 8 (2009) 285-297.

Kreider, J., Curtiss, P. & Rabl, A. (2010).  Heating and Cooling of Buildings:  Design for Efficiency. Taylor & Francis:  Boca Raton, FL.

Krygiel, E. & Nies, B. (2008).  Green BIM:  Successful Sustainable Design with Building Information Modeling.  Wiley:  Indianapolis

Nidumolu, R., Prahalad, C. & Rangaswami, M. (2009). Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved March 10, 2015 from

Ogle, J., Hyllegard, K. & Dunbar, B. (2004).  Predicting patronage behaviors in a sustainable retail environment.  Environment and Behavior.  Vol. 36 (5) 717-741.

Plevoets, B. & Van Cleempoel, K. (2012).  Creating sustainable retail interiors through the reuse of historic buildings.  Interiors:  Design, Architecture, Culture. Vol. 3 (3) 271-293.

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