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LAS VEGAS-A combination of old centers and new green technology could result in major savings for shopping center developers, said speakers at ICSC’s RECon meeting, which concluded here yesterday.

With many malls now hitting the quarter-century mark, opportunity exists to improve sustainability on a number of levels, using the latest technology in lighting and HVAC, while taking advantage of new subsidies to improve the bottom line.

Lighting technology, in particular, has evolved rapidly in recent years. “Lighting is nuts and bolts, but we’ve hit this moment in the industry where a lot of new technology will be a catalyst,” said Jeffrey Bedell, vice president of sustainability for Macerich Co., Santa Monica, CA. “Sylvania has said that 80% of what’s in their catalog will not be there in five years.” In fact, noted GO, his firm is looking at relighting sites that were done just a few years ago.

Photovoltaics have progressed rapidly, with the latest technology capable of generating two to three times the energy of early panels. Shading elements can be placed in center parking lots that can include photovoltaics, attractive wind power units and even charging stations for electric cars, said Timothy Boe, managing director of Boe Eco-Tects, a Pasadena, CA-based LEED consultancy.

In fact, solar glass can be used on buildings to generate more energy than the mall can use, helping to power neighboring homes, Boe said. Such efficiency could bring new customers who had dismissed photovoltaics as impractical.

“Macerich has been looking at solar and wind, but the economics hasn’t worked,” Bedell said. “This technology is exciting, allowing us to look at large-scale applications.”

Retrofitting extends beyond lighting–the age of some centers should necessitate HVAC replacement in the not-too-distant future. “I still see a lot of systems that do not work properly,” Owens said. You should use variable frequency drives [on fans to help the amount of air to be circulated match demand] wherever you can.”

At a time when the retail industry is struggling, sustainability has to be economically viable. Fortunately, the returns of early programs are justifying the investment. “When I was with Rouse, I developed an energy program that saved $2 million using $50,000 in capital,” Owens said.

In fact, said Doug Gatlin, VP of market development for the US Green Building Council, a study to be released next month by McKinsey and Co. will show that going green has a negative cost. “It’s better than free,” Gatlin said.

The result can be dramatic. Macerich’s Strategic Energy Program will produce a 29.2% return on investment, Bedell reported. “One of the ways to increase the value of an asset is to reduce operating costs,” Boe said. “These are exciting times.”

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