Rich Varda ’75: A Sustainable Target

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Rich Varda is helping the Target retail chain adopt green design. He sees his position as a way to make a difference on a large scale, given the company’s 1,800 stores. Photo: Tim Gruber.

When you want to reduce your energy consumption, you might swap an incandescent light bulb for a more efficient compact fluorescent. But Rich Varda ’75 thinks bigger — much bigger.

As the senior vice president of store design for the retailer Target, green design is a critical component of his work. “We’ve retrofitted the bulk of our stores — about ten square miles in building area — with lamps that reduce energy consumption by 10 percent,” he says.

With a staff of 280 to maintain and modify Target store prototypes, Varda has helped to develop Chicago stores with green roofs and has added solar photovoltaic installations (technology that converts sunlight to energy) to 25 stores. This year, when Target opens 135 stores in Canada, he expects more than 80 percent of the buildings to receive the rigorous Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Under Varda’s watch, Target has also become a member of the steering committee for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Retail Energy Alliance, which nudges manufacturers toward more sustainable practices and products.

Before beginning this post in 2001, Varda was a principal at the Minneapolis architectural firms of Ellerbe Beckett and RSP Architects, where he designed an array of award-winning buildings, including the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. When Target recruited him, he saw an opportunity to make a difference on a massive scale.

Next on his to-do list is finding more efficient refrigeration methods, an opportunity that has become more critical as Target has added a wider selection of groceries to many of its stores. Because current refrigeration technologies gobble up vast amounts of energy, the company has invested heavily in research and development, and has also teamed up with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to test out new refrigerants and refrigeration methods.

While sustainability has become a hot topic in the past decade or so, Varda says he’s long had an edge over his contemporaries, because he was steeped in its practices as a landscape architecture student at the UW more than thirty-five years ago.

“The landscape architecture department was way ahead of its time in philosophies that reflect the ideas of sustainability,” he says. “The department’s approach to everything — to use what is sustainable and natural, and to understand the science behind it — wasn’t something you found in a lot of schools. Now it’s a buzzword. But for me, it just made sense.”

Published in the Spring 2013 issue

Tags: Alumni, Business, Environment

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