Senior economist says shopping center industry can lead on sustainability (EUR)

Despite a backdrop of the most challenging world economic times for 60 years, shopping centers have the potential to significantly contribute to the drive for environmental and economic sustainability. That was the view of Jeremy Rifkin, founder and president of US-based think tank The Foundation of Economic Trends, senior economist keynote speaker at the first day of the ICSC European Conference, being held in Barcelona.

And Jeremy Rifkin challenged ICSC members to harness their shopping centres, roofs, car parks and heat exchange potential to become energy creators instead of energy consumers. On behalf of the retail property CEOs, ICSC European Advisory Board Chair Jaap Gillis welcome the cooperation.

The world is currently facing three crises, said Rifkin. "Climate change, recession and an energy crisis.

"Despite our different dreams and cultures, America and the European Union must work together for the good of the world," he stated. "Commerce is not a primary institution; it is an extension of culture, not the other way around."

And shopping centers have a real part to play in helping to solve the energy crisis.

"Rather than energy consumers, they have the potential through innovation to become energy creators; power plants in their own right, feeding national power grids from a surplus of energy generated on site from green sources."

Jeremy Rifkin is urging World and industry leaders to achieve 202020: A 20% increase in energy efficiency, 20% reduction of global warming gas emissions and the generation of 20% of its energy needs with renewable, all by the year 2020. The European Union has already established this goal for EU member-states.

Public and private sector agencies across the world are on the edge of a third industrial revolution, he added.

"By drawing together four industrial pillars* – renewable energy, engineering and construction, hydrogen storage and a distributed electrical grid and plug-in vehicles – this revolution promises to change our relationship to energy as significantly as the first and second industrial revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries."

The European Parliament has already endorsed the Third Industrial Revolution and the European Commission is collaborating with European and American companies in pursuit of the new 21st Century economy. The Third Industrial Revolution Global CEO Business Roundtable, made up of more than 100 European and American companies and trade associations, is working together across industry lines to lay out the infrastructure for the new economy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chief Economist at Deutsche Bank Research, Professor Dr Norbert Walker, also speaking at the conference, called 2009 a 'lost year' for international economies.

"GDP in Europe will be down by 5%, in China and Japan but 6-7% and in the US by 3.5%. Emerging Markets will shrink. My best guess is that after a year of downturn there is a chance of stabilization or even a slight increase in GDP at the end of 2010."

However, Dr Walter warned that countries must avoid protectionism at all costs to provide the help that emerging countries will need to survive the downturn.

He called for business leaders to speak out and support the political system to make this happen.

*Rifkin explains the 'Four Pillar approach'

"The first pillar is renewable energy. Across the world, governments are mandating more aggressive use of renewables, and major corporations have invested heavily in high-profile projects from wind, solar and hydro to less conventional modes such as geothermal, garbage, agricultural and forestry waste, and tidal. With the European Union moving to 20% of energy to be renewable by 2020, new incentives will accelerate development of green energy technologies.

The building industries are the second pillar and they must do more than reduce the carbon footprint of their properties, and begin to feed the national power grid from a surplus of energy generated onsite from green sources. This is where he sees large buildings, such as shopping centre with their huge expanses of roofs, contributing.

The first positive power buildings are already operating in Europe. A solar plant on the roof of the GM Factory building in Aragon, Spain is producing enough surplus electricity to power 4,600 homes in the surrounding community.

But as Rifkin points out, the sun doesn’t always shine, nor the wind blow. “The third pillar of our 21st Century industrial revolution will be a new system of energy storage. Hydrogen is the universal medium that “stores” all forms of intermittent renewable energy to assure that a stable, reliable supply is available for power generation and, equally important, for transport.”

Rifkin feels that the world must ‘fundamentally reimagine’ the power grid as a peer-to-peer network. The design principles are identical to those behind the Internet he says.

“Just as teenagers produce and share information, they should be able to produce and share their own green electricity. Their electric plug-in and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will serve as portable power plants that can sell electricity back to the main grid.

"The scale of the challenge can only be met if millions of businesses and homeowners become local energy players and the rolling out of such a strategy will require massive retraining to develop a high-tech workforce skilled in a wide range of renewable energy and nanotechnologies, IT as well as power management.

"There is huge potential for the retail real estate industry to jump start the world economy, and more practically for a shopping centre industry facing an uncertain short-term future, opportunities to reduce high energy costs and create a second income stream."

Source: Nicky Godding

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