Apple Stores Not The Greenest In Retail Industry

January 7, 2011

Among the many superlatives used to describe the architecture and design of Apple’s retail stores, none of them describe the stores as the “greenest” stores in America. In fact, the siting of stores, their use of electricity and unusual design would rate the stores as barely certified according to standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), if Apple sought certification from the group, which they have not. According to the group’s Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) standard, a typical Apple store would rate high for indoor environmental quality, average for energy, and low for building materials and resources. Altogether, Apple’s stores would rank as “certified,” far below the silver, gold and platinum categories that signify superior compliance with the standard. However, the stores’ low rating doesn’t necessarily indicate a wasteful or inefficient design. Instead, the low scores result from the rating system itself, which offers few opportunities for Apple’s stores to gain points towards the best rating.

The LEED standard was developed by the USGBC back in 1993, and was updated just last November to include a specific set of standards for retail operations, including the option to certify scores or hundreds of retail locations that share a common design. The standards create a “concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions,” the USGBC says.

Compliance with the standard is entirely voluntary, and is obtained by building owners after they submit certification documents to the USGBC. Certification generally indicates a company’s commitment to improving the environment through building design.

Officially, LEED certification means that a store was, “designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

The LEED standard comes in two types for retail, one for new construction or major renovation, and another for commercial interiors. For each type, there are seven categories, each with a maximum number of available points.

For new construction or major renovation, there are a total of 111 possible points, with certification possible with at least 40 points. Silver certification is given to buildings with 50 or more points, gold for those with 60 or more, and platinum for those with 80 or more points.

The categories and available points for new construction, and how Apple stores might fare if submitted to USGBC for certification :

  • Sustainable sites – 27 possible points – Apple gains points for site selection and density, and light pollution reduction, but can’t qualify for points offered for maximizing open space or protecting habitat since store sites don’t include lawns or yards.
  • Water efficiency – 10 points – Apple gains points for landscape watering efficiency (none), and low potable water use, but can’t qualify for points on innovative wastewater technology or other landscape water points.
  • Energy and atmosphere – 35 points – Apple meets the mandatory requirements for energy performance, and gains points for a moderate amount of energy use optimization (21 percent within the range of 12 percent to 48 percent possible). The stores gain no points for renewable on-site energy or green power. Apple continues to use standard fluorescent and incandescent lamps in the stores as part of a sophisticated lighting design. The U.S. Department of Energy has mandated conversion of commercial lighting to more energy-efficient designs by 2012, which could eventually improve Apple’s score in this category.
  • Materials and resources – 14 points – This is Apple’s least compliant category, with points gained only from diverting construction waste from a landfill and using 10 percent recycled building materials. Most Apple stores use no certified wood or reused materials, regional materials, or re-use an existing building, thereby losing available points.
  • Indoor environmental quality – 15 points – This is usually Apple’s most compliant category, with points gained for tobacco control, increased ventilation, low-emitting materials, thermal comfort and daylight views in 75 percent of the spaces.
  • Innovation and design process – 6 points – This is another low-compliant category, since Apple’s standard design does not—ironically—qualify for points assigned for innovation. Apple usually only gains one point for using a LEED accredited professional when designing the store.
  • Regional priority credits – 4 points – There are up to four available points for projects that address geographically specific environmental priorities, for which the Apple stores cannot qualify because of the usually standard design.

For more information about the LEED standard, consult these resources:

  • Basic information about the LEED standard
  • Basic information about the LEED for Retail standard
  • The entire LEED for Retail standard (pdf):
  • LEED checklists for determining Retail certification (pdf)
  • The Wall Street Journal article on LEED for Retail standard for chain stores
  • Sunlight shadow studies performed on Apple stores by a consulting firm:
  • LEED check-list for proposed Palo Alto expansion store, older standard (pdf)
  • Professor’s study of The Grove Apple store and the LEED lighting standard (pdf)

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