Net-zero buildings to be added to commercial real estate list

Combining geothermal energy with solar panels and wind turbines, Walgreens is expected to build the first net-zero retail building.

As the net-zero concept begins to take hold in the minds of designers and commercial architects, more companies are getting proactive and undertaking net-zero projects of their own.

So what is a net-zero building exactly?
In order for a building to qualify for a net-zero certification, it must use renewable energy systems such as solar, wind or geothermal that exceeds the buildings annual energy demand. Any building seeking a certification is monitored for a year to assure the building is, indeed, performing at its intended level of efficiency. According to the Living Building Challenge website, the project must not be built on ecologically sensitive land. In other words, it needs to be built in an area that has already been developed.

However, many people debate how a building goes about achieving net-zero status. Amanda Sturgeon, vice president of the International Living Future Institute, addressed the marketplace confusion by creating the Net Zero Energy Building Certification, according to GreenBiz.

Walgreens and Chicago
Due to the increasing demand for energy within Walgreen's business model, the company is building its first net-zero building in Evanston, Ill. The project is the first installment of a company wide push to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

"There are a lot of other retailers that consume less energy per square foot - when you think of a clothing store - but Walgreen does sell it all," Menno Enters, director of energy and sustainability at Walgreens, told The New York Times. "So it makes a net zero store much more challenging to pull off. If Walgreen can do this, a lot of other retailers can do this."

The new building won't come cheap, either. Not willing to share specific financial details, Walgreens did state that the project will cost about twice as much as a typical new store. It will feature over 800 solar panels on a tiered roof, a geothermal system and two wind turbines on site. However, the company will apply for tax credits and will be eligible for energy rebates from local utility companies that will help in recovering the initial investment, as reported in The New York Times.

The company intends to achieve the highest designation of the United States Green Building Council, a LEED Platinum status, and hopes it will become an educational example for other retailers.

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