• From a beacon
    to a standard

More sustainable buildings are better for the environment and people – but they require a major effort in the beginning. With its Green Building concept, REWE Group has created a blueprint for more sustainable supermarkets. After successfully completing the trailblazing work, the company is now working to apply the concept on a wide-scale basis.

She loves the fruit and vegetable department above all. Andrea Flammuth, an independent retailer in the REWE store in Cologne-Lövenich, looks up: Sunlight is pouring from there and enveloping her favourite fruits in a blanket of dazzling rays – thanks to a window facade rarely seen in any supermarket. The retailer worked for many years in management at REWE before she decided in 2013 to become her own boss. When she heard that a supermarket based on the "REWE Green Building concept" was to be built in Cologne, she enthusiastically applied for the location. Since then, Andrea Flammuth has seen every day just what a positive impact the building has on customers and employees: "Thanks to its high ceilings and huge banks of windows, the store exudes freedom and openness," she says.

Buildings impact not just their users' moods. Above all, they affect the environment and climate. As a rule, they are constructed with materials that are produced and discarded in a less than environmentally conscious manner. Globally, the real estate sector generates nearly 40 per cent of CO2 emissions.

One standard makes sustainability measurable

In 2008, REWE Group decided to devise a comprehensive "green building" concept. The aim was to create a new generation of supermarkets that would bring the beliefs of REWE Group to life for consumers and employees: Today, shoppers find more sustainable product ranges in more sustainable supermarket buildings. But just what is a more sustainable building? The real estate industry has developed the tools and standards for it. The most widely recognised certification in German-speaking regions is issued by the German Sustainable Building Council. The seal of quality evaluates a wide range of building features. These include environmental questions, the stages of the construction process and socio-cultural factors regarding well-being, including visual comfort, ambient air, bicycle parking places and customer restrooms. These facilities provide a form of comfort for older people and individuals with limited mobility that is not always expected, and diaper-changing stations help parents to do their shopping.

The world's first climate-neutral supermarket

The higher costs related to the construction of sustainable buildings pay for themselves in just a few years through reduced maintenance costs. This argument for "sustainability" helps to win over investors and landlords. This is important because REWE Group depends on them for every construction project. In 2009, the trade company opened the world's first climate-neutral Green Building supermarket in Berlin-Rudow. The building has received the gold certificate of the "German Sustainable Building Council".

Turning sustainability into a standard

REWE has been honoured several times for the pioneering role it has played in sustainable construction, including "Store of the year 2010" from the German Retail Association. In 2012, the United Nations (UNCSD) also named the company's work as one of the world's 100 best sustainability concepts. In the same year, REWE Green Building specifications received multiple certification from the "German Sustainable Building Council" thanks to their replicability and adapatability. As a result, REWE Green Buildings are quickly, simply and cost neutrally certifiable. toom Baumarkt DIY stores are also working to gain multiple certification for their building specifications.

These efforts have cleared the way for sustainable buildings to move from their niche and into the mainstream. Today, consumers can shop in more than 30 REWE stores, four toom Baumarkt DIY stores and, since 2014, one PENNY store that were built according to the "German Sustainable Building Council's" standard. As a result, REWE Group has both the first DIY store and the first discount store in Germany that have "German Sustainable Building Council" certification. More than 60 other stores are being planned. A warehouse in Neu-Isenburg, Germany, also meets the Green Building standard. When possible, REWE Group plans to build only Green Buildings. In many of its existing buildings, the trade company has already integrated the concept's "inner values", including efficient lighting and refrigeration systems. The key goal that applies to all construction and remodelling projects is: to lower emissions and conserve resources.

Outer wooden pillars are the most eye-catching feature of many green building stores

Pleasing shopping atmosphere through wood and light

No REWE Green Building is like any other. But they all are based on the same broad concept. "Even from far away, you notice that the architecture is really something special," says the Cologne retailer Andrea Flammuth. The recognition value of the green stores includes eye-catching wooden roof frames and exterior pillars whose wood comes from certified and sustainable forests. No other building material better embodies the principle of sustainability. It grows quickly, binds CO2, can be reused and is readily available in Germany. Portions of the outer walls and, in some projects, the roof shell are made out of wooden panels. The thermal insulation in these elements is provided by cellulose-based materials made of recycled paper. Customers enter a market hall bathed in sunlight. The natural light illuminating the sales area pours through a wraparound bank of windows and an array of skylight domes. Blinds prevent glare and protect perishable products from direct sunlight. "Customers and employees feel right at home thanks to this friendly atmosphere," Flammuth says. If the store needs more light, the photovoltaic systems on the roof help to meet the store's electricity requirements.

Hot and cold: CO2 as a natural refrigeration agent

Many fresh products like it cool – and it takes huge amounts of energy to satisfy their needs. A REWE Green Building prevents the refrigerated air from escaping by using refrigerated wall display cases and freezer units with glass doors and energy-saving fans. In addition, the climate friendly refrigeration agent CO2 is used in freezers, refrigerated storage areas, counters and heat pumps. A 4,000 litre buffer-storage unit collects the waste heat produced by the refrigeration systems for use as store heat.

Using rain to prevent water waste

The building collects rainwater from the roof and directs it into a 6,000 litre cistern. In the toom Green Building in Nieder-Olm, the amount climbs to 25,000 litres of water, which is used for the 3,000 square metre garden area and customer restrooms.

Good-humoured employees attract customers to stores

One result of the sustainability programme is this: Technologies have cut primary energy consumption by up to 40 per cent from the level used by a previous standard store. Renewable energies meet about 40 per cent of a green store's needs. Along with the green power acquired from outside sources, a Green Building is largely CO2 neutral.

Customers and employees see just a small portion of this. Nonetheless, a Green Building is not a run-of-the-mill store to them. "Our employees are proud of working here," Andrea Flammuth says. They hear positive feedback from customers. After all, it is not just the products that attract people to stores – customers can already find them online at any time. For this reason, the atmosphere in stationary trade created by friendly, good-humoured employees for customers is becoming that much more important. "Feel-good stores" is how Andrea Flammuth describes it.