Savills plc

06/16/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/16/2021 08:01

Operational carbon: what are the challenges for the retail sector?

We are reaching an era in the retail market where sustainability is at the forefront of the sector. From the implications of fast fashion to the practicalities of online returns, conversations are being had around the clock on how we as an industry can become more sustainable.

One area that hasn't necessarily been addressed as frequently as others is that of operational carbon and the carbon emissions associated with retail real estate. Operational carbon refers to the carbon emitted during the in-use operation of a building, as soon as the foundations are laid. So for retail this means from the moment a store begins to be built, through to its use as a retail unit, and even its life beyond if a store becomes vacant and sits empty.

Despite the increase in online shopping, approximately three quarters of retail sales are still generated within physical stores. Energy use for these stores varies significantly depending on the building fabric and age, but there are some common themes that impact carbon emissions for all retail buildings.

Bright lighting is used to attract customers, consuming a high amount of energy, and doors are often left open or are opened regularly leading to significant energy waste. As with other sectors, changes are being made with low-energy lighting technology and a range of open door alternatives, including automatic or revolving doors and draught lobbies.

Supermarkets in particular are worth mentioning when it comes to their energy usage. Refrigeration is estimated to account for 30 to 60 per cent of electricity consumption in these buildings and, in spite of calls for refrigerators with doors to be used as standard, open fridges are still the norm for displaying products.

Repurposing retail is another angle we need to consider. Savills research has shown that the UK currently has 142 million sq ft of vacant retail space, equivalent to 12.6 per cent of retail units. These units have the potential to be converted into residential, co-working space or even life science labs to breathe life back into town centres. However, this potential repurposing is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

The decision whether to retrofit or rebuild will be looked at from many angles - from viability to planning regulations to demand - but the environmental impact should also be a central consideration in decision-making.

In most cases a retrofit will result in lower emissions but it is not always the cheapest or easiest option and may depend on the sector. For example, a typical department store requires less structural change to retrofit into co-working space than it would to convert to residential dwellings, and therefore less carbon is emitted.

The retail sector is reaching a critical point where we have the once-in-a-generation opportunity to right-size our retail space for the future. We need to ensure we take on this challenge with sustainability at the core of the solution.

Further information

Contact Stuart Moncur

Read more Operational carbon: what are the key challenges in each sector?