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Tina Casey headshot

Macy's Joins Leadership Effort for Energy Efficient Upgrades

Macy's has joined a national energy efficient upgrade initiative called the Better Buildings Challenge, and at first glance, that seems like one tall order for the iconic retailer. Better Buildings aims to tap leading companies as role models for giving older buildings a green makeover, but Macy's has not exactly planted a green image of itself in the public's mind, say on the order of other retailers like Ikea or Walmart. Complicating the effort is the company's hundreds of different retail outlets crowned by a colossal flagship store that sprawls across an entire New York City block's worth of buildings that just happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

That sure seems to put Macy's on the spot, so let's take a closer look at the company and try to figure out why exactly the Obama Administration tapped this particular company to serve as a best practices model for other property owners.

Macy's and solar power

The first thing that jumps out as a potential obstacle is Macy's real estate profile. Aside from the sheer numbers, its properties span an incredible diversity of ages, styles and sizes. However, in terms of alternative energy that is as much an opportunity as it is a burden.

Without much fanfare to speak of, the company became a early adopter of solar power several years ago. By September 2012, the company had emerged as one of the top five solar power users in the U.S. in the commercial sector, according to rankings compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

So far, the company has installed 41 individual systems in four different states with a total capacity of 16,163 kilowatts (kW), covering about 5 percent of its stores. Only Walmart, GM, Ikea and Kohl's ranked higher in the survey.

In the context of the Better Buildings Initiative, rooftop solar power can be the low-hanging fruit of energy upgrades for some companies. Your building doubles as a valuable distributed energy harvesting site, you don't have to alter anything inside, and you get to use your clean energy as a promotional tool, too.

Macy's and energy efficient upgrades

Macy's has also put itself in the vanguard of high efficiency lighting by replacing more than one million conventional accent bulbs with high efficiency LEDs. In this class of lighting, Macy's estimates that its has reduced energy consumption by 70 percent.

That leads to the main reason why Macy's stands out as a Better Buildings leader. Within the goal of energy conservation and sustainability the company maintains razor sharp clarity on its central mission, as emphasized in its Five-Point Action Plan for sustainability, and that is to run a profitable business. That's a perfect position for demonstrating that a well-planned conservation strategy can strengthen the bottom line.

The Five-Point Action Plan set targets for the end of 2012, based on a record of achievements from 2003 to 2009, so in terms of Better Buildings Macy's also demonstrates that several years of progress can still leave room for further growth.

For example, the company cut energy consumption (on a kWh per square foot basis) by 19 percent from 2003 to 2009, and its goal was to achieve another eight to ten percent by 2013.

Macy's also set specific goals for using more renewable energy, cutting paper consumption, increasing the use of recycled or certified paper, and increasing the use of sustainable building materials in major construction projects. Water conservation and employee awareness are part of the plan, too.

The Better Buildings Initiative

President Obama launched Better Buildings in 2011, with a raft of leading corporate partners already lined up. Starbucks, Staples and J.R. Simplot joined in last year.  In this latest round of partnerships, Johnson Controls and Sprint have signed on along with Macy's.

Between Macy's, Johnson Controls and Sprint alone, the goal is to cut energy use by at least 20 percent by 2020 in a combined total of 200 million square feet of space.

Aside from reducing their own expenses, as Better Buildings partners the three companies will contribute their data and experiences to a shared knowledge platform.

[Image: Buildings by James Trosh]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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