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IKEA's Edmonton outlet is among the latest in the chain to install solar panels on the roof. The solar installations across Alberta are expected to reduce the company's annual energy use in the province by about 25 per cent.Ikea

Retailers have been developing sustainability policies for their buildings over the past 10 years, and now the seeds of those efforts are growing into green real estate features and amenities. Solar panels, electric vehicle chargers and even beehives are sprouting at their stores across Canada.

Family-owned fashion store Simons opened its first net-zero store, designed to generate as much energy as it uses, in March in its Quebec City hometown. The 80,000-square-foot store’s system includes solar panels on the roof and in the parking lot and incorporates a geothermal heating system.

The company’s Londonderry Mall store in Edmonton also features solar panels on the roof and in the parking lot, producing more than 50 per cent of the store’s energy needs.

Angela Stinson, the company’s director of store development, says her mandate, as Simons expands, is to build net-zero stores. Two more locations are on their way in Quebec, one in St. Bruno and the other on the west island of Montreal. Simons also provides electric vehicle chargers for customers.

Being a private company has played a role in allowing Simons to make its solar investment, Ms. Stinson says. Public firms worried about return on investment every quarter don’t have that luxury.

“If you look at the economic payback, it’s not there for a large component of the solar. ... If you’re looking at your payback as 32 years or 35 years on some of these solar projects, that’s the kind of project that would be nixed right away at a public company,” Ms. Stinson says.

The 170-year-old Simons does its planning on a five-, 10- or even 50-year timeline, she says.

The firm makes sure customers are aware of its sustainability program.

“We’ve created a podium [in the Londonderry store] that tells what current solar generation is, how much electricity was used to date, and what the offset is between the two, and then other key metrics like how many litres of gasoline have been diverted from the use of the charging stations.”

In Alberta, Simons was able to take advantage of a provincial government green incentive program that paid 25 per cent of the cost of the solar panels.

Ms. Stinson says she is getting questions from other retailers about the Simons initiatives and she sees EV chargers popping up at every shopping centre across the country. Solar panels on shopping centres is a little further behind, she says, because landlords are “reluctant to start messing around with their roofs.”

But Simons gives credit to Oxford Properties, the shopping centre landlord for the Simons Quebec City store, which allowed the firm to drill geothermal bore holes for its system.

Giant retailer IKEA Canada began its sustainability program in earnest after 2010, says Brendan Seale, IKEA Canada’s head of sustainability.

“One of the big commitments we made at that time was we would generate more renewable energy than the total energy we consume as a business by 2020,” Mr. Seale says.

All of the company’s Ontario stores have solar; Calgary and Edmonton solar installations were added this year; and the Halifax store has solar panels, a green wall and a passive solar feature incorporated into its architecture. The solar installations in Alberta reduce IKEA’s annual energy use in the province by about 25 per cent.

Embarking on solar depends on the economics, Mr. Seale says.

“It really depends on where the investment makes sense. We’ve got some provinces where the cost of power is very, very low because of clean and affordable hydro electric power – places like B.C., Manitoba and Quebec. The return on investment in solar is a much longer payback period because of the low cost of the power.”

The company also has invested in two wind farms in Alberta to help achieve its environmental goals.

In 2015, IKEA Canada decided to install electric vehicle chargers at all of its stores.

“It was just something we wanted to do to stimulate the adoption of electric mobility and low carbon mobility. Thinking about how our customers and our employees travel to and from our stores is an important aspect of our carbon impact,” Mr. Seale says.

Initially IKEA installed two Level 2 chargers at all stores. But newer stores in Halifax and Quebec City have four chargers because of anticipated future demand. An Ontario government incentive program in 2017 also prompted the company to install faster Level 3 chargers at its Ontario stores.

IKEA incorporates its sustainability reputation into its brand position, characterized by its tag line “the beautiful possibilities,” Mr. Seale says.

“The customers who visit us often would recognize and they would support the fact we take that kind of action. It’s one of the reasons they feel good about shopping at IKEA. Similarly, it’s important to us we demonstrate that to our co-workers, and it’s one of the reasons people choose to work at IKEA.”

Shopping mall developer and manager Oxford Properties started considering its sustainability practices between 2008 and 2010, says Darryl Neate, director of sustainability.

“We had a solar project completed last year at Yorkdale [Shopping Centre in Toronto]. That was our first significant project. It was about 600 panels on 20,000 square feet of the roofs.”

The installation, which produces the equivalent of three months of interior and exterior lighting at Yorkdale a year, reduces a portion of the electricity costs for tenants.

The company has installed 150 EV chargers in the past five years. It has established sustainable food courts at five Oxford malls to eliminate single-use plates and cutlery.

And, with community partners, Oxford has established a rooftop vegetable garden at Yorkdale. Produce from the garden goes to the food bank.

And there are beehives on three of Oxford’s malls.

“It’s part of a broader interest on the part of our staff, as well as our customers. It responds to declining bee populations," Mr. Neate says. "We have good high-quality urban locations and rooftop availability and close proximity to parks that are really an ideal home for bees. We have over 150,000 bees across those three sites producing 50 kilograms of honey per year.”

“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves and I think sustainability works into that,” he adds.

Specific environmental features such as solar and EV chargers are one way of addressing sustainability, but Shape Properties Corp., a Vancouver-based real estate development and management firm, aims for a different level, says executive vice-president Darren Kwiatkowski.

Shape creates dense, multiuse communities that integrate retail, residential, restaurant, entertainment and service development.

Mr. Kwiatkowski says the trend in good urban planning is shifting from suburban to urban, single-purpose use to mixed use, and from an overwhelming focus on automobiles to walking, biking and transit as well as cars.

“The beauty of densifying a site right on the SkyTrain [transit line] is there was already a hierarchy of regional shopping – we’re talking a million square feet of retail. Now you really could live and work within a 400-metre radius. Then you start layering on electric vehicles and car sharing."

Mr. Kwiatkowski says that model of retail and multiuse development is the most sustainable strategy.

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