How to Make a Positive Impact

by Katie Lee

— By Krystal Vasquez —

Sustainability moves every retail owner should consider.

Retailers continue to struggle with tackling sustainability in their properties. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the urgency of engaging in environmentally friendly practices, and retailers are facing more and more pressure to reduce their impact on the environment.

Unfortunately the desire to make a retail business sustainable and achieving sustainability are two very different things, and the path to long term retail sector sustainability remains a challenge. Commercial properties, in particular retail stores and restaurants, have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to energy conservation as 30% of the energy used by commercial buildings is wasted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But environmentally responsible choices have a positive effect in the long run. Whether saving energy or conserving water, investing in sustainable options for a commercial retail property can make a significant impact on both the planet and a retailer’s bottom line. While it’s true that most sustainable initiatives require some upfront investment, those efforts will eventually pay off with a positive ROI, and there are specific actions and best practices retailers can implement to make real progress.

Motion detectors and timers: Installing motion detectors in low-traffic areas and restrooms at retail properties can slash energy bills while making facilities safer. Light timers automatically turn off lights in areas where they aren’t needed (at night and on the weekends) to boost energy conservation. Motion detectors also help ensure there are lighted pathways for employees who work after dark and security staff can be alerted to unknown after-hours visitors without having to leave the lights on 24/7.

LED Lighting

Lighting accounts for approximately 17% of all electricity used by commercial buildings in the U.S. Making the switch to LED lighting for both retail buildings and parking lots can lead to cost savings because they require much less energy — 90% less energy, in fact. Plus, businesses may qualify for technical support and financial incentives when retail properties are upgraded. Be sure to check with regional energy providers about any available offers.


While solar conversions are a substantial investment, they can have significant benefits over time. Beyond the obvious energy savings, there are additional perks that could make going solar more enticing, including potential federal and state incentives as well as the ability to claim an energy-efficient commercial buildings deduction for buildings that improve their energy efficiency by at least 25%.

Plumbing Fixtures

Upgrading outdated fixtures like sinks and toilets should be high on the list of conservation priorities for retailers.


Retailers that approach landscaping work for their properties with the environment in mind can unlock significant cost savings and environmental benefits. In fact, retailers can reduce landscaping water use by as much as 20% to 50% by choosing native plants, flowers and shrubs and opting for perennials over annuals which typically require more water and maintenance.

Dedicated Water Meters for Irrigation

Installing a dedicated meter for irrigation makes sense on multiple fronts. First, it arms retail property owners with information about how much water is being used specifically for landscaping. Secondly, retailers can then use it to monitor water use and decrease monthly sewer water costs.

Green Insulation

Insulation is inherently designed to help conserve energy, but some greener insulation options can reduce toxic chemicals and make use of recycled materials. Different types of insulation can have varying environmental impacts; based on how they are produced, the materials they’re made of and how effectively they can be recycled. So when determining the right green insulation for your properties, retailers should consider specific performance requirements, such as temperature ranges in the local area, how the space is utilized and the overall project scope. The Insulation Institute offers a helpful at-a-glance overview of environmental impact and related considerations that shop owners should consider.

Permeable Pavement

According to the EPA, traditional pavement alternatives like pervious asphalt and concrete, interlocking pavers and plastic grid pavers can aid in water conservation by decreasing runoff. In addition, permeable pavements help remove pollutants and may also decrease reliance on pavement salt, as well as lower construction costs by eliminating the need for some traditional drainage features.

Cool Roofs

By reflecting more sunlight and absorbing less heat, the latest cool roof coatings can help reduce energy budgets as well as mitigate the effects of so-called “heat islands” — urban areas where temperatures climb higher than their surrounding areas. In addition, roofs can help decrease air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is costs for cool versus traditional roof coatings are comparable, and cool roofs could provide an average yearly net savings of nearly 50 cents per square foot, according to the EPA.

When considering environmentally friendly upgrades for a retail property, an energy audit with a qualified energy auditor is a great first step to identify potential areas for increased efficiencies. Afterwards, working with a qualified facilities maintenance and repair company can then help a retailer implement changes needed to make a business more sustainable. While it takes time to implement all these practices, following these steps can help save money and resources while reducing the negative impact a retail facility can have on the environment.

— Krystal Vasquez, ProFM, CRFP is the director of accounts at Chain Store Maintenance, an MCS company.  She has been in the FM industry since 2009. She specializes in relationship development, mentorship and solution building. Chain Store Maintenance and MCS provide interior and exterior maintenance and repair services to retailers and restaurants across the U.S. Email the author at [email protected].

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