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CHICAGO-Quick, name a green retail center. When you think green, the Hearst Building in Manhattan or the Comcast Center in Philadelphia comes to mind. But the retail segment of the industry is behind the curve, and in an interview during GreenBuild here, Regency Centers Corp. construction VP Scott Wilson and VP of investments Erwin Bucy, came to grips with the issue. The interview comes a few days after the firm unveiled its green building initiative.

The push entails an acceptance of green solutions at all levels of the operation—corporately and in terms of existing and new developments, based largely on the input of an internal task force formed in 2006 and charged with the duty of defining sustainability for Regency.

“We’ve taken a global look at Regency’s practices and have established higher environmental standards,” said CEO and chairman Hap Stein when unveiling the push. “As a result, our company will fulfill our commitment to becoming better stewards in the communities we serve through operating and development practices.”

Regency is not the front runner, as Wilson readily admits. That honor, he says, goes to the likes of Forest City, but most of the competition is well behind.

The recommendations of the task force, which Wilson headed, were approved by the executive committee in the fall of this year, and a number of recommendations are currently being prepped for implementation. These include the retrofit of three existing centers in 2008 and three more in ’09. It also calls for 20% of 2008 starts to be sustainable, then growing that volume by 20% in each of the next two years.

It’s not an aggressive schedule, but Wilson and Bucy explain that retail is harder to assess than other sectors that have made more aggressive inroads. “LEED was originally designed for office,” said Bucy. In fact, Regency and others are working with the USGBC—GreenBuild’s sponsor—to develop a retail-center certification plan.

Wilson underscored the lagging state of retail’s green progress with a sobering stat: “Some 25,000 retail buildings are built every year. Less than 100 are certified.”

The executives state that hard evidence on gains, costs and savings are hard to come by for the sector, but both men recognize the potential. “If tenants can go into a sustainable center,” said Wilson, “we have a better asset with more room for rent growth and a competitive advantage.”

And, just as the issue of sustainability arrived in the mainstream of office development a few years back, Wilson sees what he calls a similar surge in retail. “It is here to stay,” he stated, “and we intend to stay ahead of that surge.”

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