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A solution for the Retail Sectors struggle for sustainability

Guest article | Lizzi Whaley - CEO Spaceworks

We are delighted to have Lizzi Whaley, CEO of Spaceworks share their incredible new innovation and development of the Carbon Calculator. This is a wonderful tool that measures the carbon footprint of any fitout to help businesses certify and achieve a Carbon Zero fitout. It helps solve (effectively and efficienctly) a big problem the industry was trying to solve due to a lack of data.

I can't remember when I first met Lizzi but she has been a leading innovator in the retail design landscape for over 20 years. She has a vibrant energy and passion to build space that help people and businesses grow. She has been a force in her commitment to the Rainbow community and driving diversity, equity and inclusion for all.


Sustainability has become an increasingly critical issue in today's world, and many businesses are taking steps towards a more sustainable future. However, some sectors are facing unique challenges in achieving sustainability goals, and the retail fitout sector is one of them. Along with its importance is an underlying message from Retailers that they do not know where to start or how to know that what they are doing is making a difference.

The fitout sector is particularly challenging because the lifespan of spaces is often only 7-10 years, with modifications made regularly. There is no tool to measure the environmental impact of these smaller changes, but refurbishments add up, and so does their environmental impact.

The need for innovation in this space is increasingly urgent, as construction and demolition waste accounts for over 33% of Class 1 landfills in New Zealand.

Despite these challenges, sustainable design has numerous benefits, including environmental, cost-saving, and health and well-being benefits. Sustainable design reduces waste, conserves natural resources, and minimizes the carbon footprint, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution, and waste generation. Furthermore, sustainable design can save businesses money by reducing energy and water usage and minimising maintenance and operational costs.

The problem with the retail sector is that every dollar spent is critical to the return on investment, nice-to-have spends are simply not included. Sustainability appears at this point to be someone intangible. How do you know that what you are doing is creating a positive impact? And what is in it for my business? With slim margins and rising costs of employing staff, how can sustainability be added to retail without exorbitant cost?

One company that has recognised the urgent need for sustainability in the fitout sector is Spaceworks Interior Architecture. With 23 years of experience in retail design, Spaceworks has seen first-hand how the 1700 projects they have built have been a significant contributor to New Zealand's landfill crisis via their clients projects. Over half of these projects are retail. This realisation led Lizzi Whaley, CEO of Spaceworks, to take action and create a tool, a carbon calculator, to measure embodied carbons.

Whaley believes that the only way to see improvement in sustainability and to understand impact is to measure it. With data, businesses can benchmark where they are and use this data to create a strong strategy for sustainability and improvement through design. The Carbon Calculator measures embodied carbon, allowing businesses to make informed decisions that align with their sustainability goals.

Understanding the difference between operational and embodied carbon is crucial for developing a comprehensive sustainability strategy. If you think of the example of a plane; to fly from Auckland to London these are operational carbons. With the same plane, the manufacture of it, the labour involved, the painting and interiors, delivery to its owner – then eventually its disposal at end of life are embodied carbons. In relation to a retail fitout – the construction of the fitout, the joinery, materials, lighting, fixtures & fittings, and future demolition are embodied carbons. The Carbon Calculator created by Spaceworks helps businesses measure and understand the impact of embodied carbons for their fitout.

As part of the development of the calculator a retail client who has multiple outlets allowed Spaceworks to run calculations on their 170m2 standard format store. With no change, business as usual, this standard retail fitout equated to 20,000 tonnes of embodied carbon, which equates to 75,000km in a vehicle or 5.5 flights from Auckland to London. As part of the calculator process, the next step involves an active reduction process which includes selecting low carbon construction items where possible, logistics and personnel travel planning, designing for minimal waste from the outset, and using materials that have a lifecycle. After completing the reduction process, the output reduced the embodied carbons by 40% to 12000 tonnes, the equivalent of 45000 km in a car or 3.3 flights to London. For a retailer that has five stores, implementing the calculator and engaging the reduction over these sites would equate to a positive environmental reduction of 30,000 tonnes of carbon.

The topic of sustainability is deep and wide, and the feedback is often that retailers do not know where to start. This is the simplest place as its easy and cost effective.

Current studies are saying that 80% of waste is locked up in the design phase. Reduction of waste in the turnover of our retail fitouts is critical. Whaley believes that commercial construction will be much like the cigarette if we do not look to innovate and reduce our carbons.

By using tools like the Carbon Calculator, businesses can take a step towards a more sustainable future, making positive environmental change, and minimising the impact that we have on the environment.

It is time to take action and make a difference.

To find out more contact SPACEWORKS

(09) 551 6020

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