The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) this year will release two new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) retail rating systems, LEED for Retail: New Construction and LEED for Retail: Commercial Interiors—the seventh and eighth members of the growing LEED family. Other categories cover new construction, existing buildings, core and shell, commercial interiors, schools, and homes. The upcoming launch comes at a seemingly inauspicious time, with both the economic slump and overbuilt retail markets creating hardships for retailers and real estate owners—problems that are not going away anytime soon.

In southern California, for example, vacancy rates at neighborhood shopping centers, which typically have a grocery store as their anchor tenant, are still rising, according to a recent study by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) Econometric Advisors. The current 12.4 percent vacancy rate would be higher if landlords did not offer an array of financial incentives such as reduced rents to hold on to tenants.

“We may be overbuilt, but there are still a number of strong retailers who are constructing a great amount of new projects that are suitable for Retail: New Construction,” says Nick Shaffer, the USGBC commercial real estate manager responsible for LEED for Retail.

“LEED Retail: Commercial Interiors will become prevalent with retailers who need to upgrade their existing space to remain competitive or who are taking over existing retail shells and building out the space for their new store,” he explains. “More successful retailers are looking ahead and are taking over recently vacated space in top locations so they can boost their market share in better times. The commercial interiors rating system is particularly suitable for retailers who are retrofitting their light and HVAC [heating, venting, and air-conditioning] systems. LEED Retail was created to meet the unique needs of a retail space or building. For example, different energy usage for different retailers such as restaurants made it necessary to adapt LEED to address those issues.”

Both LEED for Retail: New Construction (which includes major renovations) and LEED for Retail: Commercial Interiors collected market feedback from more than 40 pilot projects. Each rating system underwent several rounds of public comment to identify any necessary fixes. For LEED for Retail: New Construction, points are awarded in six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. The commercial interiors rating system includes these six overall categories, but focuses on specific issues related to new interiors.

One project completed under the pilot testing program is the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Gurnee Mills, Illinois, the first stand-alone restaurant in the United States to qualify for a LEED Platinum rating. In planning this new outlet, the company identified several important environmental goals: increase energy efficiency, generate power with the restaurant’s own wind turbine, reduce water use, maximize indoor air quality, and use nontoxic materials throughout the interior.

Since it received its Platinum rating in 2009, the Chipotle restaurant has exceeded these original goals. Energy savings are 38 percent, water savings are 43 percent, and 86 percent of construction waste did not go into landfills. A six-kilowatt wind turbine meets 7.5 percent of the restaurant’s energy needs, and the roof has a high solar reflective index to reduce summer heat transmission into the building, thereby cutting air-conditioning requirements. The parking lot is paved in high-albedo concrete, which reflects rather than absorbs sunlight to reduce the heat-island effect. In addition, the building has achieved 100 percent savings in consumption of outside water through use of water-thrifty landscaping and a 2,500-gallon (9,500-liter) cistern to gather rainwater.

For some retailers and restaurants, having green facilities boosts their environmental image, builds greater customer and workforce loyalty, and burnishes the company’s corporate social responsibility reports. The two new LEED for Retail rating systems offer retail owners the opportunity to lower their energy and water costs, too.