Carbon Reduction at intu Metrocentre

As intu Metrocentre approaches its 30th birthday, I meet the centre’s management to discuss their ambitious carbon reduction programme and more …

In 1986, the Metrocentre rose from the ashes of a former power station on Gateshead’s largest brownfield site. At 2 million square feet it was, and still is, the biggest shopping and leisure centre in Europe. Modelled on the archetypal North American shopping mall, the presence of this retail innovation to the North East has polarised opinion since its doors opened. Whatever you believe, its success is incontrovertible and clearly demonstrated by 23 million visitors a year. With this success comes responsibility.

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intu Metrocentre is still the biggest shopping and leisure centre in Europe

I met Operations Manager Simon Tucker to discuss intu Metrocentre’s approach to Corporate Social Responsibility. My interest had been sparked with the discovery on intu’s website that they hold the Carbon Trust Standard for reducing carbon emissions year on year. Why hadn’t I heard this before? “We don’t sing it from the rooftops, ” Simon explains apologetically, ‘but with such a large operation, we do see it as our responsibility.” intu’s Carbon Trust certification stems from an energy saving programme implemented in 2011 which has reduced their carbon emissions by 30% in the first 4 years.

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The recently refurbished Plantinum Mall is entirely lit by LED fittings.

This impressive result is largely due to a massive programme of light bulb replacement. Installing LED lighting to the malls, car parks and rear-of-house areas has drastically cut their energy bill as well as bringing savings in maintenance thanks to extended bulb lifespans. Carefully auditing their own electricity usage has allowed them to find other savings such as only switching on escalators 5 minutes before shoppers arrive rather than to suit cleaning rotas. intu Metrocentre’s own Energy Champion has been able to reduce gas consumption by monitoring and adjusting the temperature of the space heating and ventilation system, making use of natural ventilation and ‘free cooling’ whenever possible.

Waste is another subject that Simon could talk about for hours. 30% of the centre’s rubbish is sorted on site and baled for recycling. The rest is taken to a nearby recycling depot where it is sorted, and non-recyclable waste is delivered to the Teesside Waste-to-Energy power station. The solutions they’ve adopted at intu Metrocentre mean that almost all of the waste they produce has now been diverted from landfill.

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A green themed customer service desk

One of the criticisms levied against out-of-town shopping malls is their reliance on the car. With 9,250 car parking spaces surrounding the centre, and direct access from the A1, it’s not hard to see why many point the finger of blame at intu Metrocentre for causing congestion. “The Metrocentre was built at a time when the car was king, ” explains Dr. Gareth Evans, intu’s Regional Sustainable Travel Manager. What many people don’t realise is that over 25% of shoppers arrive by public transportGareth, who commutes to work by train, explains that car ownership has increased significantly in the North East since 1986, which hasn’t helped, but management understand their role in supporting sustainable travel choices. What many people don’t realise is that over 25% of shoppers arrive by public transport, either by train or on one of the 110 buses arriving each hour at the Public Transport Interchange. Working with the Local Authority as part of the Go Smarter initiative, the centre has provided a travel lounge where shoppers can collect train tickets, check bus times, or get advice on public transport options.

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Simon Tucker, Operations Manager, cycling to work

Gareth is delighted to show me the recent cyclist facilities for staff. With nearly 7,000 people employed at intu Metrocentre, they’re doing what they can to encourage workers to choose more sustainable options for their commute. They now offer a ‘Try Before You Buy’ scheme where workers borrow a bike for a month to get into the habit of cycling. Two of these bikes are electric and they’ve proved very popular! With secure parking, showers, changing rooms, and regular visits from a bike doctor to help maintain employee bikes, they’re certainly making it easy for staff to give it a go.

subscribe banner 225x200I finish my visit with a look at the bank of electric vehicle charging points available free to customers, including one rapid charging station. Gareth admits that when they were first installed, they weren’t used much, but now they average around 50 charging sessions a week and this is increasing all the time. They’re looking to install more EV charging points. From a business point of view it’s a no-brainer. If you’re going to stop to charge your vehicle for an hour, you’re certainly going to shop rather than sit staring at the dashboard!

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One of the banks of EV charging points

The year-on-year carbon reductions required by the Carbon Trust certification will make sure that Simon and his team don’t rest on their laurels. Their next target is to reduce carbon emissions by 50% (over 2010 levels) by 2020. He admits that this isn’t going to be easy since they’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit, but they do have plenty of ideas and schemes in the pipeline. As the building nears its 30th birthday, they mustn’t forget to celebrate what they’ve achieved so far.


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