The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.

OVERVIEW | Re-conceptualising shopping centres from consumerism to energy conservation: the CommONEnergy project

Share this Post:

By Roberta d’Angiolella and Marine Faber– BPIE (Buildings Performance Institute Europe) 


What is the environmental impact of shopping centres? How can they be retrofitted to use energy more sustainably? What are the innovative technologies and methodologies supporting this aim? The EU-funded project CommONEnergy,  launched in 2013 under the FP7 programme, answers all these questions.


Since the early stages of the project, the 23 partners representing various industry stakeholders, as well as research and academia from ten European countries, worked on delivering a number of solid analyses focusing on the energy efficiency of shopping centres. In order to understand the energy potential of a building, it is necessary to investigate its features: the report Shopping malls features in EU28 & Norway provides a comprehensive evaluation of the existing typologies of shopping centres in Europe, followed by a cross-country comparative analysis, and proposes a selection of ten reference shopping centres to better understand their complexity, functions and social context.


Shopping centres convene multiple activities for customers, and should therefore be considered not only as buildings for retail activity but also as places of social interaction with typical functional patterns. As one of the goals of CommONEnergy has been to define drivers for retrofitting, it is important to understand these functional patterns that allow identifying relevant performance indicators, which are key when retrofitting a shopping centre.


In order to facilitate a smooth transition to “sustainable” shopping centres, a complete overview of the buildings and their surroundings is fundamental. It is therefore important to consider, first, how shopping centres interact with local energy grids, and secondly whether there are any inefficiencies. The former issue is investigated by the report Interaction with local energy grid, which aims to identify key aspects and understand the potentials associated with this interaction so as to improve their current status. Various energy scenarios and solutions were explored for each of the ten CommONEnergy reference buildings to detect improvements in the building-grid interaction. Technical and social inefficiencies are analysed in the report Identifying & analysing shopping mall inefficiencies, and these include the influence of user behaviour and decision-making practices when implementing energy renovation measures, aesthetics, comfort, safety, etc. This kind of socio-technical approach allows an easier analysis of the actors and factors influencing the functional efficiency and energy consumption, and increases the chances of identifying key shopping centre inefficiencies.


With all these elements in mind, it is possible to define the main drivers associated with deep energy retrofitting of shopping centres, providing the basis for developing practical and economically-viable overall concepts for future retrofits. By providing integrated concepts that raise the  level  of  ambition  among decision-makers, improve  control  and  collaboration  with  tenants,  and secure  a  suitable  building  form with an appropriate structure  and  materials,  it  will  be possible to ensure that different technologies are brought together and operate optimally. This is explored in the report 'Main drivers for deep retrofitting of shopping malls'. 


The innovation of CommONEnergy lies mainly in its systemic approach involving technology solution sets and innovative methods and tools, named the Systemic Retrofitting Approach (SRA). This requires a careful analysis of the buildings that are to be retrofitted and involves a number of steps: retrofitting concept, technology solution set, design, procurement, implementation, and validation/assessment. Energy audits in this sense are essential as they provide knowledge of energy flows on the premises and of factors that directly affect energy consumption. The report Energy Audits gathers general information on the status of shopping centres buildings before retrofit, including construction figures, uses, energy systems (heating and cooling, refrigeration, ventilation, lighting, DHW), and monitoring data.


By following the steps of the CommONEnergy Systemic Retrofitting Approach, the innovative technologies and solutions were implemented in three demonstration cases. The three cases are in Italy, Spain and Norway, where several technology solutions were agreed, designed, installed and commissioned with the local design teams, building owners and the general contractors.


One of the innovative materials developed by the project and implemented in the demonstration cases is a Smart coating. Coatings are traditionally used mainly for aesthetic reasons, but nowadays technologies using special additives and paints are becoming more common. This new series of commercial products, dubbed “cool” or “smart” paints or coatings can be used to address several buildings-related problems simultaneously, such as mould growth, water penetration and solar reflection. However, in order to achieve a multifunctional coating, the various combinations of additives must be carefully designed with extensive use of nanotechnologies. The report thus investigates commercial ordinary and specialised paints and additives, in order to cross-check their performance, and it describes new steps for the development of a fabrication in vitro of a novel series of multifunctional formulations.



The “theory put into practice” principle, typical of CommONEnergy, is also demonstrated by several tools developed by the project partners and providing information on the energy efficiency of shopping centres and on the best ways to achieve the best performance. The Data Mapper allows a tailor-made and comparative access to national and international indicators on the commercial building stock in EU28 and Norway and lists useful resources.



The Integrated Design Process library (IDP) is an online repository of information, conceived to provide designers, owners and managers with relevant information to start a shopping centre retrofitting process. In particular, the tool collects information about shopping centre archetypes and specific technology features, as well as climate, social and urban contexts connected to the reduction of energy needs and to the increasing of energy efficiency.



The economic assessment tool allows estimation of the energy saving potential and economic benefits of retrofitting shopping centres. The tool targets managers and owners and allows them to input relevant information about their buildings. It provides quick information on the energy consumption and options to reduce energy demand, CO2 emissions, and environmental impacts, and it also provides an economic assessment of the investments in the proposed retrofit.



CommONEnergy was presented several times to policy-makers, through multiple events and a policy paper. In June 2016, the project organised a workshop during the European Sustainable Energy Week, titled Smart strategies and policies for sustainable shopping centres: energy efficient and cost-competitive retrofitting solutions. The workshop demonstrated to policy-makers and other participants the importance of commercial buildings in the context of the building-related EU Directives, especially as commercial buildings represent 28% of the non-residential building stock. In September 2017, the project held its final conference in Brussels. The project partners gathered to present concepts and technologies to make the EU's shopping centres better and smarter, including smaller retail shops or markets. Indeed, many technologies developed during the project fit for this kind of buildings too.


The conference was organised jointly with the Sustainable Building Challenge award ceremony that rewarded the following shopping centres:


  • IKVA Shopping Centre – Sopron – Hungary, in the “Super Malls" Category;
  • CARREFOUR Hypermarket – Nichelino – Torino – Italy, in the “Hyper Malls” Category;
  • CENTROSARCA Shopping Center – Sesto San Giovanni – Milano – Italy, in the “Mega Malls” Category.

Last but not least, the webinar Innovative technologies and tools for energy efficient shopping centres, on 19 September 2017, summarised the achievements of the project and the next steps which bear the highest energy efficiency potential.


These events were accompanied by a policy paper, which, building on the demonstration cases, and giving concrete examples of the benefits coming from the renovation of shopping centres, set recommendations that can serve as an important basis for the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), part of the Clean Energy for All Europeans policy package, released end of 2016 by the European Commission. The recommendations are grouped under four main themes: engaging stakeholders, communicating the benefits of renovation, promoting energy efficient technology packages, and supporting the energy transition. Following the project’s policy recommendations would mean catching the opportunity of a more ambitious revision of the EPBD and a better recognition of the strong role shopping centres can play in achieving the EU energy efficiency targets.


2017 is the closing year of CommONEnergy, which can now boast of solutions and methodologies that have been made available on the market, in addition to many lessons learnt. Indeed, the project showed there is a high replication potential and exploitable co-benefits in shopping centre energy retrofitting, and this is also valid for other large energy-consuming buildings such as airports and railway stations.


On the occasion of the final conference, and as a concluding document of the 4-year project, CommONEnergy launched its guidelines report, a treasure box for facility managers and designers, a guide from the early stages of renovation, providing technology solutions and effective methodological approaches. These guidelines can be a catalyst to launch a domino effect for the energy transition of shopping centres and similar buildings in the EU.