Simon Property ups sustainability tech to lure tenants, shoppers

As e-commerce siphons an ever-larger portion of retail sales, what keeps businesses and consumers congregating at shopping malls?

For Simon Property Group, the largest real estate company in the world with approximately 326 retail properties in North America and Asia, at least part of the answer is tied its innovative sustainability agenda.

By testing groundbreaking new energy-efficiency and waste-management processes, for example, the mall operator hopes to encourage successful retailers to take up residence because their operating costs might be lower in a Simon Property than elsewhere.

"These systems range from very simple to very complicated, but the common theme is how can we make it easier for our tenants," said George Caraghiaur, Simon Property Group's senior vice president of sustainability.

Energy management systems have been installed across a large portion of its facilities, which cover a massive 245 million square feet. Daylight harvesting technology helps handle tasks such as turning lights on and off when appropriate, while telematics applications are being deployed to help malls automate their cooling and heating settings according to ever-changing variables, such as outside air humidity. The team also is evaluating its demand-response options, in order to earn price breaks when utilities face peak load situations.

Managers can access all of the data that Simon Property collects so they can compare consumption to other sites.

Aside from what it can do for tenants, Simon Property seeks to attract the sort of shopper who cares about his or her individual environmental footprint. One demonstration is its substantial investment in electric-vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, meant to help assuage lingering range anxiety associated with EVs.

"Malls are somewhere between work and home, so it's a natural place to put them," he said. "If people come to the mall, they will spend time here."

Caraghiaur is the first to acknowledge that some programs Simon Property is trying are challenging and unproven, which is one reason the company lets individual property managers take the lead when tackling new initiatives. But two ongoing pilot programs make it clear the company is willing to take risks.

Next page: Cutting-edge plastics recycling effort

Mall image by prayitno via Compfight cc.