The Mall Goes Green

Chicago's Green Exchange will be the first shopping center in the U.S. for environmentally responsible and socially conscious businesses

Marilyn Jones was a green-business pioneer. Since 1973, the owner and president of Chicago-based Consolidated Printing has been using soy-based inks and recycled paper in her sheet-fed and digital-printing business. And while she admits that in the beginning it wasn't easy being green, Jones says the past three or four years have brought tremendous attention and attracted numerous fellow practitioners to green and socially responsible business.

So many new practitioners have emerged, in fact, that the first mall in the U.S. dedicated to green and socially responsible businesses—Green Exchange—will open in Chicago early in 2008. When it does, Consolidated Printing will be one of its original tenants.

Jones is ecstatic that Chicago will soon have a place where "greenies" can help each other expand their businesses—and attract a critical mass of consumers. "A lot of people are unaware of how many things they can actually purchase that are green," Jones explains. "And it's certainly going to give [small green businesses] visibility on a grander scale than they could achieve as an independent."

Plum Location

The 250,000-square-feet building will hold about 100 vendors. And not just retail outfits. Besides Consolidated Printing, Green Exchange will house an organic restaurant and café, a sustainable furniture store, a green building supply company, an eco-friendly printer, architects and designers focused on sustainability, an environmentally-friendly clothing company, a car-sharing service, a bike shop, and more. And the location is plum: an estimated 350,000 motorists pass the site each day.

The development is capitalizing on a booming market for all things green, organic, and socially responsible (see, Summer 2006, "Do You Need to be Green?"). The Organic Trade Assn. says sales of organic foods are expected to expand by 20% annually over the next few years, and the market for green residential construction and building materials, not counting residential remodeling, is forecast to grow from $7.2 billion in 2005 to between $19 billion and $38 billion in 2010, according to the National Association of Home Builders and McGraw-Hill Construction.

By providing a concentration of green and socially responsible businesses, Green Exchange is helping small green providers get bigger and attract more business in an environment that reinforces their ideals. "Since we have this mission, having a place to rent that goes along with that mission is really important," says Ori Sivan, president of Greenmaker Supply, a Chicago-based building materials supply company that will be a Green Exchange tenant.

Taking the LEED

It's also making it easier for individual small businesses to help each other. Future tenants are working together on "a collaborative marketing and support network," an online community that provides an e-commerce platform, and a number of events that will eventually be planned for the space. And one of the tenants, Greenmaker Supply, is offering to help each tenant build out their own space using green materials.

Once completed, Green Exchange won't only be a home for green businesses, it will be the product of one. Baum Development, a 40-employee Chicago-based real estate development company, is developing the site according to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards, which is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The LEED Green Building Rating System provides benchmarks for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings by recognizing performance in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

The Right Mix

Hartshorne & Plunkard, the construction company carrying out the building project, along with Baum, is taking care to preserve many of the historical features of the building. At the same time, the team will also comply with LEED standards when renovating by incorporating an energy-efficient environment, a green roof, clean air quality, a landscaped courtyard, bike rooms, meeting and event space, priority hybrid parking, and on-site parking.

Of course, an entirely green project presents its share of challenges. Since the building will only be open to tenants who are doing some kind of ecologically responsible business, the potential pool is smaller than normal. But therein lies the project's uniqueness. "Our biggest challenge is finding the tenant mix, but that will also be what will make it fantastic," says David Baum, co-owner of Baum Development.

If successful, the idea of a green mall could soon spread to other cities. If it does, then the next generation of mall rats just might be helping to save the world when they shop.