ROBINSON TOWNSHIP - Long before green became chic, the Mall at Robinson was reducing, reusing and recycling.
The mall, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, started down the road to sustainability in 2005 at the behest of its owners, Forest City Enterprises, who dispatched their own sustainability guru to talk to them about what they could and should do to be a friend to the environment.
"Sustainability and community involvement are two of Forest city's core values," said Shema Krinsky, marketing director. "We decided it was the right thing to do, the smart thing to do. Not only would it save us money, but it would resonate with people because a lot of people are concerned about the environment. They want to shop and do business and do the right thing."
Forest City defines sustainability as "strategically and competitively balancing environmental resources, economic objectives and social systems, as we operate our business and invest in new opportunities" which, in essence, means doing whatever they can do to protect the environment while still growing the bottom line.
"It really changed the way we do business, the way we think about business," Krinsky said. "When we look at things now, we think about how we can do it sustainably. For instance, if someone wants to print posters, we use 30 percent post-consumer chlorine-free recycled paper and soy-based ink. If we can find a way to do it (in an environmentally friendly way), we do, though we always have to be cognizant of the price."
Krinsky said many of the changes they've implemented are budget friendly as well as environment friendly: For instance, they collect and recycle roughly 60 tons of used cardboard from mall offices and tenants every month. They put containers in the food court service area to collect grease by-products from their food vendors, which is then recycled into animal feed products. Grease waste dumped into the drain systems during food preparation goes through large underground grease interceptors that filter the grease out before the wastewater goes into the municipal sewer system. Those interceptors are treated four times a year with a bioaugmentation product that reduces the amount of grease waste using specially adapted microorganisms, mall management says. The remaining grease waste is pumped out four times a year and hauled away for recycling.
Likewise, the mall management team purchases recycled products whenever possible, including paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, batteries and ink/toner cartridges.
Each year the mall recycles more than 3 million tons of co-mingled paper, glass and plastics. Cleaning crews use environmentally friendly products. Interior landscaping uses environmentally safe, biodegradable chemical treatments, while snow removal is done with biodegradable salt solutions. Only low VOC paints are used.
Restrooms are stocked only with 100 percent recycled toilet paper, while paper towels were replaced with energy efficient hand dryers a move that saves them about $15,000 a year. Waterless urinals in the mens' restrooms reduce water consumption by 1 million gallons annually, Krinsky said.
"They've saved us $300,000 since 2007," she added.
Mall management also realized a $35,000 energy savings since 2008 by switching to energy-efficient lights, adjusting timers, adjusting heating and air conditioning controls and installing energy-miser units on all vending equipment. Some 66,000 bulbs in holiday light displays also were switched to LED bulbs in 2008, Krinsky said.
And, working with the Pennsylvania Resources Council, they located a recycling unit in the mall where guests can drop off old batteries, cell phones and ink and toner cartridges for recycling. They also host host semi-annual hard-to-recycle item collections to help community residents properly dispose of things like unwanted electronics and appliances, propane tanks, batteries and tires. So far, she said they've collected and recycled 283 appliances, 927 tires, 199 compact fluorescent lights, 1,937 pounds of batteries and nearly 50 tons of e-waste. Occasionally there's a fee involved because of the expense involved for the company, Krinsky said, "but all of that is kept from going into landfills and it's open to anybody."
Since 2005, Krinsky said they figure the mall has recycled nearly 788 tons of cardboard and 36 tons of glass, tin and bottles - and they figure that common-sense recycling approach saved nearly 14,000 trees, nearly 3.5 kilowatt hours of electricity and a tremendous amount of landfill space.
Many of those environment-saving suggestions were the work of Sustainable Pittsburgh, whose team of experts helped mall managers identify places where little changes could make big differences environmentally.
Krinsky said many of the things they suggested "were easy to do and didn't cost a lot."