August 31, 2006


Creating Eco-Malls with Environmental Management Systems: AEON Mall Co.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.48 (August 2006)
Toward a Sustainable Japan--Corporations at Work Article Series No.48

In Japan, large shopping centers containing specialty stores and taking up huge tracts of land have sprouted across the country and are showing remarkable sales growth. In recent years this trend has been most noticeable in the suburbs of large cities, as well as in smaller cities around the country.

AEON Mall Co. is a developer that has developed and manages 22 large shopping center complexes in Japan. The company opened its first shopping mall, the AEON Kashiwa shopping center, in Aomori Prefecture in 1992. Each center designed by AEON Mall has two anchor tenants and an enclosed mall with 70 to 180 specialty stores. These shopping centers have 33,000 to 77,000 square meters for shopping, and cover roughly 36,000 to 200,000 square meters of land.

To manage these giant complexes, attract consumers, and offer them products and services, its large environmental impacts are inevitable: energy consumption from lighting and air conditioning, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles used by customers and for transporting products. The shopping centers face waste management challenges to deal with the garbage produced every day--from used packaging materials to leftover food at restaurants. In this article, we will look at how AEON Mall has been working to reduce environmental impacts at the same time as providing services and comfort to its customers.

"Developing shopping centers that attract local people to be regular customers is the best strategy to cope with environmental impacts," says Masako Matsui, head of the ISO, Environmental and Social Contribution Secretariat at AEON Mall.

AEON Mall opens new malls every year and aims to open its fiftieth in 2012, which means an inevitable increase in the absolute quantity of environmental impacts. In spite of that, the company aims to reduce the overall environmental impacts by decreasing the impacts in each of its shopping centers and increasing value of services and comforts provided to its customers.

Japan is a country with hot summers, and the government recommends that air conditioners be set no cooler than 28 degrees Celsius in summer, as an energy-saving measure to mitigate global warming. However, customers could be uncomfortable if the air conditioning could not be varied from that temperature, and that might lead to a decline in the number customer visits. The result would be an increase in energy consumption per customer for cooling (one of their indicators of environmental performance). AEON Mall thinks that if the mall could attract more customers by allowing flexibility in setting temperatures at comfortable levels, depending on outdoor temperatures, it would be possible to decrease the energy consumption per customer. If extra energy is required to maintain the lower temperatures, AEON Mall tries to compensate by saving energy in other ways.

Based on this approach, AEON Mall obtained its ISO 14001 certification (for corporate environmental management systems) in 2001. Since then, using this system, the company has been making an effort to create "Eco-Malls" with low environmental impacts.

In order to improve its environmental performance, AEON Mall has been developing methods to manage energy consumption per unit of activity. The company seeks ways to reduce each shopping center's energy use effectively, examining performance from various perspectives, by comparing the energy consumption of the existing 21 shopping centers in different locations, and with sizes and facilities, and analyzing the results of comparison. Below are some examples.

First of all, AEON Mall made a graph of each shopping center's electricity use per square meter, per month, and analyzed the design and characteristics of those shopping centers paying lower electricity costs than average. This comparison and analysis indicated that shopping centers with larger stores dotted around the malls consumed less electricity. This is because, thanks to each larger store's individual air-conditioning control, the common areas between shops are kept cool and comfortable even though the temperature setting of the overall shopping center is set relatively warmer. This knowledge can be used for the future shopping center design.

In a separate analysis, the 21 shopping centers were classified on two axes: (1) demand for cooling and (2) energy required to decrease room temperature by one degree Celsius. By identifying the shopping centers that showed high values for both factors, this analysis indicated logically where there was the highest potential for significant returns on investment in energy saving measures.

These analyses of energy consumption per unit of activity revealed that there is still a room for efforts to create eco-friendly malls. The company now hopes to maintain its efforts to reduce environmental impacts more effectively by determining the priority of certain measures. For that, it will determine the total energy consumption of all shopping centers, analyze the environmental impacts in each one, and compare all the data of energy consumption per unit.

One goal of AEON Mall is to raise employee awareness and participation in environmental management and activities, an approach that has already made a difference in maintaining the environmental management system. Matsui is convinced that there is nothing more important than educating employees to promote environmental activities.

One of the key points is the training of in-house environmental auditors. At present, 232 employees (more than 80 percent of the total) are certified as in-house auditors through in-house training seminars for environmental auditors, offered by certification bodies. Meanwhile, as a preliminary step, the company offers status as "junior in-house auditors" with one-day seminars. This option is not only for full-time employees but also part timers and temporary staff, and 133 people have taken the one-day seminar and obtained the junior level certification.

Thus, more and more employees are involved in the environmental management system as in-house auditors, and they are putting what they've learned into practice. When asked for comment, one employee said, "Now I understand the importance of the environmental activities that until now were done by just a few staff in charge of ISO affairs." Another said, "Even new employees have learned enough that they can discuss industrial waste management issues with the government authorities." Matsui adds, "These days, the employees can identify problems and find solutions on their own, even without the help of our ISO secretariat."

For example, the company used to simply subcontract waste disposal and recycling from shopping centers to waste management firms. Today, however employees are making efforts to identify what waste is recyclable, by touring waste treatment facilities and studying recycling methods. AEON Mall aims to achieve zero waste emissions at shopping centers through reducing waste and promoting recycling as one of its environmental policies. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of employees, the company's recycling rate has been improving, reaching 65.2 percent in 2005.

Matsui expects that the environmental education for its employees will also spread to the employees of tenant stores. At each AEON Mall shopping center, waste is sorted into 17 categories for collection. Tenant store staff bring their waste to a garbage storeroom at shopping center's back operations area every day. To create a welcoming atmosphere and encourage cooperation, each shopping center tries to make the storeroom clean, bright and safe, and displays clearly the rules for sorting and disposing of garbage. At 13 that have introduced a garbage weighing system, data on the amounts of waste disposal provided to each store as feedback to help them reduce waste further.

The company installed the AEON Mall SR (Social Responsibility) System on its corporate intranet in 2005 to centralize the management of data on progress toward objectives, as well as energy consumption and waste output for all departments of the corporate headquarters and shopping centers. When performance data is entered, the system immediately indicates whether or not objectives have been met, which helps to stimulate further efforts. The Annual AEON Mall SR Awards, established in 2005, are given to departments that have achieved excellent results in one of seven categories, and the company-wide announcement of the awards serves as a good incentive for employees.

Environmental activities do not lead to profits directly. But AEON Mall management believes that by thinking seriously about the environment and continuing to promote these activities, shopping centers will be able to win the trust of local communities and stores.

When AEON Mall achieves its long-term goal of developing 50 shopping centers by 2012, if no changes are made in the way of doing things, the environmental impacts from its business operations will be 2.4 times higher than today in absolute terms. The company therefore needs to boost its environmental efficiency by a factor of at least 2.4 by 2012 in order to reduce the total impacts. Its efforts to achieve this goal have already begun to show favorable results. We at JFS hope that AEON Mall will be able to make its shopping malls highly appreciated by their customers in local communities and continue to increase overall environmental efficiency, through the dedicated efforts of its employees.

(Staff Writer Eriko Saijo)