Pittsburgh REI Store “Exercises” Good Environmental and Business Sense

In 1996, two years before LEED for New Construction (NC) was launched at the U.S Green Building Council Membership Summit, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) set a precedent for retail green building. With the help of Seattle-based architect Mithun, REI constructed its first environmentally-friendly retail store in the co-op’s hometown in line with one of its core priorities.  Eleven years and 90 stores later, these values continue with the recent addition of a 26,500-square-foot, two-story building in Pittsburgh.  Part of the popular SouthSide Works shopping, residential and retail district, this is the second REI store to receive LEED certification.  In 2004, the company earned LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) Gold for its Portland, Oregon location, which was the first retail store in the nation to receive that designation.

“Building green allows us to not only demonstrate our values as a company, but also to fulfill the expectations of our stakeholders,” notes Kevin Hagen, REI’s program manager for corporate social responsibility.  “These values, which correspond to strong arguments for green building, include driving down the cost of ownership, reducing our environmental footprint, and providing an enhanced retail experience for both customers and employees.”

Most new REI stores incorporate many green design elements.  The Pittsburgh location received LEED-CI Silver for special features, including the use of locally manufactured and high-recycled-content materials; a contract with Community Energy to purchase wind power credits; minimal use of paints, coatings or carpets that emit chemical fumes; secure bicycle storage for employees and customers; and a self-guided tour of the store’s green features.

Green construction is just one of several sustainability initiatives that REI is undertaking.  “By committing to build environmentally friendly buildings, we are consciously aware that, as a growing company, a significant portion of our future environmental impacts will come from stores we haven’t built yet,” Hagen continues.  For more than 10 years, the aesthetic design of REI stores has reflected a commitment to do more with less.  The steel is exposed and not painted; ductwork is left out in the open rather than covered with sheetrock; and concrete is not painted or covered with additional materials.  Such features reduce the use of construction products, while creating an authentic, natural look that has become the hallmark of REI locations.

“Every store is unique,” states Steven Swanson, project manager for Mithun, “but we have learned from past REI projects what works and what doesn’t, and realized we could obtain LEED certification at practically no extra cost.  What surprised us, though, as we went through the LEED checklist, was the fact that we could achieve a Silver-level rating with little additional expense.”  Working with a local Pittsburgh firm, P.J. Dick, Mithun was able to document and divert nearly 92 percent of building construction waste from the landfill.

“Post-occupancy work is the next big step for our Pittsburgh REI store,” says Hagen.  “A main area for improvement simply revolves around augmenting our business sense with good metrics.  When we can measure areas such as such as reduced energy usage or waste generation, we are able to demonstrate that good environmental choices are good business.”

Future REI green building efforts include the construction of a new distribution center in Bedford, Pennsylvania which will pursue LEED certification, and the incorporation of green building concepts at REI’s Boulder, Colorado store expansion that will be an early adopter of the new LEED-Retail standard.  Both locations will enable the co-op to learn more about green building and retail technology for future growth.

See more details on the Pittsburgh REI Store here.  

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