WALMART with a grass roof?

Local Laws and Green Architecture

The Walmart commercial
The Walmart "Look" Turns Organic. Photo by Area 52 Advertising Inc/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Walmart wants to build another discount store near my town, and residents are in an uproar. Seems nobody wants the big box store, even if the prices are discounted. If Walmart volunteered to use earth-friendly, green design, like their green roof store near Vancouver, Canada, people around here may feel differently.

In an effort to quiet critics, Walmart Canada Corp. hired a leading green architecture firm to design an eco-friendly store at Freemont Village Shopping Centre, in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.

The Canadian Walmart was designed with a green roof, and now it's the talk of the town. The Omni Group Developers are even using the sustainability aspects of their commercial park to promote the venue as "setting itself apart from other Shopping Centres." Green is a public relations bonanza.

Not so fast. This design choice was not voluntary.

The City Bylaws of Port Coquitlam mandated the green roof system—specifically, Zoning Bylaw Number 3630 signed into law May 2008. Section III, Number 12 covers Green Roofs on commercial buildings:

12.1. Every person constructing a building for a commercial or industrial use having a building area of 5000 square meters (53,820 sq.ft.) or more must provide a green roof on at least 75% of the roof area of the building not including any roof area occupied by mechanical equipment.
12.2. The owner of every building having a green roof must maintain the planting media and plant material in accordance with generally accepted landscape maintenance practices, replacing each as necessary.

That communities mandate green architecture is laudatory, but should a certain method be required? What if Walmart wanted to go with solar panels, like on their store in Chula Vista, California? Is that not an option in Port Coquitlam?

It's somewhat disingenuous for commercial properties to boast about their sustainability when local codes mandate it.

But if that's what it takes, and if self-regulation doesn't work, I'd be happy with more communities passing these laws, if they're well thought out.

And you know what? From the street, the Walmart at the Freemont Village Shopping Centre looks just like every other Walmart—except that the sky is smiling and the air is fresher and more temperate right now.

Sources: SUSTAINABILITY, Freemont Village Shopping Centre website; The City Bylaws of Port Coquitlam at www.portcoquitlam.ca/City_Hall/Bylaws___Enforcement/City_Bylaws__by_topic_.htm [accessed May 27, 2014]