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Innovation & Startups

Mall at Robinson leads the charge for the electric car

Solar panels soak up energy at the mall.

Mall manager Beth Edwards, in white, cuts a ribbon celebrating the electric car charging stations.

Car Charging Station at the Mall.

On a roof across from Houlihan’s, The Mall at Robinson in Pittsburgh has a hidden surprise: solar panels that will power free electric car charging stations the shopping center unveiled last week.

Though the effort may seem small, it could make a difference to forward-thinking car buyers seeking to purchase eco-friendly vehicles including hybrids and electric cars. These cars once cost significantly more than projected savings, but as Chevy, Ford and Mitsubishi roll out lower-end consumer models, owning an electric vehicle is possible for more people. The government has also extended rebates to consumers who buy these cars new. 

However, in order to sell electric vehicles, charging stations need to be readily accessible. Right now, they are not as common as gas stations and take more time to utilize, since electric cars are like phones and don’t get juiced up with a single jolt. “We have a mall walker who comes in every day and charges his car in the morning while he walks,” says Shema Krinsky, spokeswoman for the shopping center.

While malls are not usually the first places that come to mind for sustainability initiatives, this mall has been working for years to reduce its carbon footprint and wants to offer visitors a little education along with their consumerism. A kiosk installed in the food court this week will let shoppers monitor energy created by the solar panels and see the impact of the shopping center’s progress first hand

It's mall manager Beth Edwards' hope that upon seeing the energy savings, visitors will be inspired to examine the impact of their own personal choices on the environment.
Over the past eight years, the mall has reduced its kilowatt usage by 43 percent by switching to LED holiday lights among other things, according to its website. Between 2008 and 2013, the mall reduced water usage by 54 percent by switching to low-flow toilets along with other efforts.

And like your hippie friend who wanted to convert an old Mercedes into an eco vehicle, the mall collects used vegetable oil from its restaurants and makes biodiesel, which is distributed for commercial and residential use. Guests drop off used books in a collection bin in the parking lot near JCPenney and Macy's to benefit Robinson Township Library as part of Better World Books, and energy efficient hand dryers installed in all public restrooms have eliminated paper towel waste. The Mall recycles cardboard, metal, plastic, paper, cell phones, printer cartridges and wood pallets. Guests may drop off phones and ink and toner cartridges at each entrance to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and paper in the Abitibi container in Service Court 3 to benefit the American Heart Association.

According to Edwards, The Mall at Robinson has been committed to sustainability since day one. In the past nine years, the mall reports it has saved timber resources equal to 21,893 mature trees, 4,732 cubic yards of landfill airspace, 596,397 gallons of oil, 9,014,600 gallons of water and enough electric power to supply more than 466 homes for an entire year.

What have you done lately? Maybe its time to look into that electric car. 
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