Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Expect more

Big-box retailers are an easy … target, when it comes to the window-dressing that’s often done on sustainability. “We’ve heard a lot of that … that word,” said our guide on a dazzling tour of Target’s corporate headquarters on Nicolett Mall in Minneapolis, where some 5,000 planners and others have descended for the annual American Planning Association. We were in the company’s 60-person architecture and engineering division, which if it stood alone would be the fourth largest such firm in Minnesota, after strolling through the Café Target and the art-adorned Great Hall, where pairs of employees talked earnestly on simple fabric furniture. What of the green innovations? The ubiquitous green roof, of course, skylights, recycling plastic hangers, tote bags to replace those bright white bullseye-dotted plastic bags, minimizing and decking parking, and plantings (Japanese maples, red of course, and “perennials with a neat appearance that align with Target’s brand image,” according to guidelines). Our guides were subdued about the greenest thing Target can do, which is to build or rehab in urban locations – the Minneapolis store is a nice example, with its slightly Dutch-feeling shopping-cart escalators, very well used when I was there. Depends on the cost of land, the market analysis, and whether it’s part of a development project, they said: “It has to be practical.” One factor is the delivery and handling of products in cities – from more compact loading docks to the need to move goods to multiple floors – which can raise labor costs. Over the nearly 200 projects in the works, most were conventional big buildings with big parking fields (though I did spot a nice roundabout drawn in to replace an intersection in one set of plans). The claim is that more building rehab is being done; no word on ending the practice of tear-downs after 10 years. Through a program of overhauling libraries and in other ways, Target proclaims interest in building communities. Truly harnessing its branding power could broadcast a message of green amid all that red.


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