Interior design

Sustainable Design Practices for Retail Spaces

March 12, 2024

How can retailers and building owners reduce their footprint across the design of their brick-and-mortar spaces? Discover some of the best practices across energy use, water use, material sourcing, construction processes, and design for disassembly – and see how green building certifications can assist in meeting and measuring targets.

Sustainable Design Practices for Retail Spaces

La Samaritaine Department Store in Paris, France

Property developers are increasingly focusing on achieving sustainable building and net zero emission targets across retail buildings like malls and shopping complexes, while smaller businesses are taking measures of their own to reduce their footprints.

Besides environmental benefits, sustainable practices across retail can provide significant savings – especially when it comes to energy and water efficiency.

In this guide, discover both building and interior design elements that can help drive sustainable retail design and discover the ways retailers are reducing their overall footprint across areas such as energy use, construction processes, and more. Plus, explore case studies in sustainable retail design from around the world.

Until the distribution of costs across the retail value chain is resolved, retailers that act early will help to shape the landscape and have the potential to create more value for their customers, their investors, and the planet.

McKinsey & Company: Climate sustainability in retail: Who will pay?[1]

Energy Use

Unsurprisingly, most efforts for sustainability often begin with energy use. After all, an estimated 40 percent of annual CO2 emissions are directly related to the combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation.[2]

When it comes to retail, shopping centres have the highest energy use, followed by food retailers – whose refrigeration alone can be behind approximately 50 percent of total energy use.[3] Smaller retail outlets are not exempt from significant energy use and their HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) can especially add up.

Retailers with existing constructions are often able to find significant room for improvement across energy efficiency. One report claims that the energy reduction potential can go up to 21 percent for supermarkets and up to 41 percent for other retail.[4] That reduction can translate into large energy savings.

Energy efficiency in the built environment is a triple win – socially, economically, and environmentally.

Jens Birgersson, ROCKWOOL CEO, Sustainability Report

Here are some ways that retailers are reducing their energy use:

Renewable energy production (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, and wind):[5]

  • Self-production from owned facilities
  • Purchase from on-site installations from a supplier
  • A direct line to an off-site generator without grid transfers
  • Procurement from off-site grid-connected generators
  • Contract with suppliers (green electricity products)
  • Unbundled energy attribute certificate purchase

Passive design:[6]

  • Passive heating and cooling strategies such as insulation, building orientation, shading, and green roofs
  • Increased diffusion of natural lighting through daylighting

Efficient utilities and appliances:[7][8]

  • Water pumping systems with high efficiency
  • Waste collection systems with high efficiency
  • HVAC and appliances with demonstrated efficiency, such as those with high scores across national energy label systems
  • LED lighting

Energy control systems:

  • Intelligent building energy management systems
  • Zoned areas
  • Motion sensors
  • Daylight sensors
  • Carbon dioxide sensors
  • Timers

Note: The above practices continue to develop with emerging research and developments in green building. To explore recent projects and contemporary practices, view the Rockfon Case Studies library.

La Samaritaine

Paris, France

27 percent of the LVMH-owned department store's energy needs are covered by renewable energy, mainly through heating solutions that range from geothermal energy to solar thermal hot water in combination with natural ventilation. Following project completion, La Samaritaine was awarded LEED "Gold", BREEAM "Excellent", and HQE green building certification.

View the complete case study  

Shopping Centre in La Samaritaine in Paris France with Rockfon Mono Acoustic.

Tripla Mall

Helsinki, Finland

The Finnish mall consumes approximately 40 percent less energy and clean water when compared to similar new buildings, which helped it achieve LEED certification at the Platinum level. A stormwater system allows water to either be absorbed into the ground or recycled for areas such as the car wash. A green roof area takes up approximately 40 percent of the entire roof area.

View the complete case study

FI, Tripla, Helsinki, Arkkitehdit Soini & Horto, Sweco Architects Oy, Retail, Rockfon Mono Acoustic, D-edge, 1800x1200, White

Volkswagen Showroom

Copenhagen, Denmark

The decommissioned Rockfon ceilings at the Volkswagen Showroom in Copenhagen were sent to ROCKWOOL to be upcycled into new wall and ceiling products.

View the complete case study  


VW Showroom in Copenhagen with Rockfon Color-all Black in X-edge

Samsung KX

London, England

Samsung KX, Samsung’s experiential showroom in King’s Cross, received a 72 percent "Excellent" score from BREEAM thanks to efforts such as the standardisation of materials and the prefabrication of certain elements to reduce project waste.

View the complete case study  

UK, SamsungKX, London, KSS, Retail, Rockfon Mono Acoustic, 1800x1200, White, Showrooms

What Does Sustainable Retail Design Sound Like?

Acoustic wall and ceiling solutions contribute to the retail experience by absorbing the excess noise that make customers feel uncomfortable, improving the indoor environmental quality and overall customer experience.

Like all other products used across retail outlets, their contribution to environmental efforts should be set as priority.

Rockfon, part of the ROCKWOOL Group, uses volcanic rock as the core material – one of nature's most abundant resources. Each year, the Earth produces 38 000 times more volcanic rock than ROCKWOOL uses in a year.

Here's how Rockfon acoustic solutions are contributing to sustainable retail spaces around the world:

  • Recycled content: Rockfon acoustic solutions contain 29 to 64 percent recycled materials, depending on the product choice, without the use of any scarce resources.
  • Durability: Rockfon products last decades without losing performance.
  • Recyclable: Stone wool is a closed-loop and fully recyclable material. ROCKWOOL factories receive wool waste, which are turned into briquettes and fed back into production instead of using virgin stone.
  • Cradle-to-Cradle: More than 90 percent of Rockfon products are Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver or Bronze.
  • Natural light optimisation: A large selection of Rockfon acoustic solutions amplify the amount of daylight drawn into a space to create an indoor climate that is less reliant on artificial lighting. For example, the acoustic ceiling solutions Rockfon Blanka and Rockfon Mono Acoustic have an independently tested light reflection index of over 87 percent.
  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): Rockfon provides EPDs for an overview about how the acoustic solutions impact the environment across their lifecycle. The EPDs can be used for building rating schemes, and Rockfon provides scorecards for BREEAM, DGNB, LEED, and WELL.
  • Take-back scheme: As part of the Rockcycle program, available in 19 markets with continuous expansion, Rockfon collects stone wool material from construction, renovation, and demolition sites to recycle into new stone wool.
  • Indoor environment: All Rockfon products fulfil E1 classification, guaranteeing that they exceed European Union requirements for formaldehyde emissions. Additionally, the Finnish Indoor Climate label M1 and the Indoor Climate Label have been attributed to a representative panel of Rockfon products.

Sustainably designed spaces are a major step forward for brick-and-mortar retail. Now more than ever, it’s important that we take efforts to optimise both new and existing retail spaces with the right practices, products, and technologies.