Shopping Malls Fight Drought With Tech And Common Sense


DON’T OVERSHOOT: The movement of water is controlled at fountains at The Grove and Fashion Island, so water won’t be shot over the sides of fountains.

California’s harsh drought has called for emergency conservation measures to save water, and some of the state’s leading retail centers have been doing their part to look for innovative ways.

A few measures to fight the drought have been dramatic. Some malls owned by Simon, a global retail real estate company headquartered in Indianapolis, have removed parklike water fountains from their properties at Fashion Valley in San Diego and Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton, Calif. They were replaced with seating areas and charging stations for electric cars, said Mona Benisi, Simon’s director of sustainability.

Other methods for malls to combat drought can be as simple as planting mulch around trees. Mulch keeps plants damp so water will not evaporate quickly, said Jackie Levy, executive vice president of operations at Caruso Affiliated, developer, owner and manager of The Grove retail center in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in Glendale, Calif. Spreading mulch around trees is a low-cost way to save water at Caruso properties, he said.

Opportunities to save water at malls are significant, said Newsha K. Ajami, a director of urban water policy for Stanford University’s Water in the West initiative.

“Imagine the number of people who come to malls every day. Malls can have meaningful impact on our water-conservation efforts due to the number of daily visitors,” Ajami said. “We have provided many incentives for people to become more water efficient in their homes. The commercial and industrial sector also represents another low-hanging fruit in the water-conservation movement.”

The Irvine Co., which runs retail centers such as Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif., and Irvine Spectrum in Irvine, Calif., said that it saves more than 113.4 million gallons of potable water annually at its retail centers due to its conservation measures, according to a company statement.

Operations executives for other companies declined to state how much water they saved, but representatives for all companies interviewed said their businesses had taken major steps to save water long before the drought started four years ago.

At the Irvine Co., a water-conservation task force was created more than a decade ago to inspire employees and staff to collaborate on and brainstorm ways to conserve water, said Gregg Lacagnina, vice president, facilities management at Irvine Co.

In 2004, the company started a program of installing efficient plumbing fixtures, such as waterless urinals and low-flush toilets, at Irvine properties, saving an estimated 2 million gallons of water annually. Before the fixtures were installed, up to three gallons of water were used with every flush. With more efficient fixtures, only 1.28 to 1.6 gallons of water are used, Lacagnina said.

Rather than take the chance of over-spraying plants with water with traditional sprinklers, the Irvine Co. uses drip and low-flow irrigation on some areas. Caruso Affiliated also uses drip irrigation. If rain is heavy, water systems will be turned off.

At Irvine Co. properties, some areas are allowed to go brown, Lacagnina said. “As a company, we understand that there is a drought. Things can’t be green all of the time,” he said.

Decorative fountains create a park-like ambiance at The Grove and at Fashion Island. Water is recycled at the fountains, and facilities management at both venues use technology to ensure that not a single drop of water is wasted by water spilling over the sides of the fountains.

At The Grove and The Americana at Brand, wind-speed sensors are located throughout the properties. They communicate with a fountain-control room. If winds are high, water pressure is turned lower so water will not overshoot the edges of the fountain. At Irvine Co., the fountains’ water pressure and spray direction have been adjusted to reduce spillage and evaporation of recirculated water.

At Simon, which runs regional malls such as Brea Mall in Brea, Calif., and Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif., water conservation extends into the ways janitors clean up the malls’ sidewalks and floors.

To make flooring as clean as possible, Simon janitors use pressure-washing machines to blast out dirt. These machines have been known to use a lot of water. Benisi said that the company now uses pressure washers that use less water or even recapture water. “It’s the little things that add up,” Benisi said.

Conservation also is a community effort. At Irvine Co., the water-conservation task force looks to engage its retailers and shoppers in brainstorming ways to better conserve water. The company sends email blasts out to tenants on water conservation. It also posts messages on its websites and places signs on its properties.

Lacagnina said you start a dialogue with people. “It’s not finger pointing. It’s getting out a message to people that helps them,” he said. “And it doesn’t stop with us. If we don’t stick together, we won’t get through this.”