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Check out the Australian shopping center that’s touted as the most sustainable in the world

Malls are struggling, but this one at least has a rooftop farm, renewable energy generation, and wastewater recycling—and should be a model for how buildings can be designed for a sustainable future.

Check out the Australian shopping center that’s touted as the most sustainable in the world
[Photo: courtesy Living Future Institute of Australia]

Inside Burwood Brickworks, a new shopping center in Melbourne, Australia, you can get your nails done inside a salon free of that ubiquitous chemical smell, and with the knowledge that the water used for your pedicure will be recycled and used either to cool down the building or to irrigate the rooftop farm. On that farm, you can help plant vegetables that, a few weeks later, you can eat at the onsite restaurant. When buying groceries at the supermarket, you can push a shopping cart made from recycled milk bottles as you walk aisles illuminated by solar tubes, an alternative to skylights that direct sunlight down into a building.

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Worldwide, malls seem to be dying, turning into ghost towns as people choose to shop online and retailers that once occupied precious mall space shutter their doors. But this one—a $120 million venture built by Singapore-based property company Frasers—met with some fanfare when it opened in December (and since) thanks in part to those eco-initiatives. “Every day there are people who come to Burwood Brickworks purely due to the aspirations it has. Some of them aren’t even shopping,” says Stephen Choi, executive director of the Living Future Institute of Australia, an environmental organization committed to sustainability, which helped bring this mall to fruition through a design competition.

[Photo: courtesy Living Future Institute of Australia]

At first glance, Burwood Brickworks looks like any other mall, surrounded by an expansive parking lot and with an array of stores and even a cinema inside. But it’s what’s out of sight—besides the visible rooftop farm—that really differentiates this building. It’s been promoted as the most sustainable retail center in the world by the Living Future Institute: All the electricity that the nearly 14,000-square-foot center uses will come from renewable energy via solar panels on the roof as well as off-site wind and solar farms; all gray and black water (meaning wastewater from both sinks and toilets) along with runoff stormwater will be captured, treated, and recycled onsite; and all indoor materials, including those products in the salon, were evaluated to have the smallest impact on air quality.

[Photo: courtesy Living Future Institute of Australia]
Agriculture makes up 20% of Burwood Brickwork’s retail space, thanks to that rooftop farm (which has quail along with produce) and the fruit trees that provide crops and shade around the mall. The parking lot has three electric car charging points, and each retail space has its own environmental features—such as the doors on refrigerated cases at the supermarket Woolworth’s to cut down on energy consumption—and has to meet environmental standards for its own energy use, waste production, and indoor materials.

The shopping center is Living Building Challenge certified—a sustainability standard created by the Living Future Institute and considered one of the most rigorous certifications, since it requires net-zero energy, waste, and water for every project. It’s the first shopping center in the world to receive that certification; many LBC buildings have been research or education centers, but Choi says it was important that this building was for everyday people. “High-end buildings that don’t damage the environment are usually accessible to private organizations and affluent individuals,” he says. “The vast majority of our population doesn’t get to interact with ‘sustainable’ buildings. Some people have never even been in one.”

[Photo: courtesy Living Future Institute of Australia]

According to Google reviews and Facebook comments, people have been flocking to Burwood Brickworks because of that environmental hype. There have been a few criticisms, including that the retailers inside the center are expensive or that there are too few places actually open inside to shop, but the retail center is still a work in progress; Choi says they will help support new retailers as they open inside the mall. Still, plenty of people have praised the shopping center, specifically noting its greenery and sustainable innovations. Choi hopes all those environmental initiatives can inspire others.

“This is just one building,” he says, “but is a building that has, through its design, construction, and operation, helped upskill hundreds of designers and contractors, sent a shockwave through the supply chain with thousands of products coming under the microscope, and will engage literally millions of people across the world as to what is possible.”

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