Students draft Grove City Outlets sustainability plan


the outlet mall at grove city, pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of the Grove City Premium Outlets

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When the Grove City Premium Outlets, a 70-acre shopping mall with 6 million visitors a year, needed help in evaluating their sustainability efforts, they turned to Slippery Rock University.

A group of 19 SRU students majoring in hospitality, event management and tourism researched, wrote and recently presented a 25-page recommendation report to mall management.

Among the recommendations the students offered were using greener alternatives to rock salt in winter, providing a means for recycling throughout the property and adding new Food Court doors for those with disabilities.

"I think they really did a fine job, a very good job," said Carmen DeRose, Jr., mall general manager and a 1989 SRU graduate. "I was most impressed with how they grabbed our changed brand and knocked it out of the park. They presented well, they obviously did their homework."

DeRose met with students to accept the report and said he is amiable to working with student groups in the future. The mall is evaluating the feasibly of students' recommendations.

The Grove City Premium Outlets employs 1,500 people and operates 130 outlet stores.

Students presented five key recommendations, based in part on research of three other shopping malls owned by Simon Property Group. They include:

• Educating customers about "green" businesses at the mall by recognizing stores that already practice sustainability;

• Trying environmentally friendly winter ice treatment options;

• Installing door openers for disabled guests;

• Installing textile paving; and

• Placing new recycling and waste receptacles through the property.

Students in "Sustainable Planning for Tourism," taught by Christine Glenn, SRU instructor of hospitality, event management and tourism, worked on the project for half the fall semester,

"My goal was to engage students in a real-life project where they have to consider the needs of a client," Glenn said. "This is a client that has a lot of weight behind it, so students had to think abut context, the mall's situation and come up with strategies for moving forward in terms of sustainability."

Glenn said students broke into five groups for the student-faculty research. They used online sources, visited the mall to check out accessibility and learn about the use of textile curbs.

Alysshia Almasy, a senior RRHM major from Moon Township, was on the team that compared and contrasted Grove City with other Simon properties. 

"We found that many other Simon locations have already taken the liberty of going above and beyond in the way of their sustainable operations, though Grove City also already takes some initiative as well," she said.

The educational benefits were many, she said. "This project allowed me to really see what goes into creating a sustainability report, presenting recommendations to professionals and learning new sustainability-related innovations for businesses."

One of the group's recommendations was to use Ecotraction as an alternative to rock salt in the parking lots, said Danielle Schneider, a senior RRHM from Kersey. Ecotraction is a natural volcanic mineral that can be used as a non-toxic de-icer.

"Environmental management has always been an interest of mine," Schneider said. "My education on the topic of sustainability in tourism has been greatly increased. Even though we, as a society, may feel we are doing our part, there is much more that can be done."

Kayla Katella, a senior RRHM major from Slippery Rock, said her group focused on taking a look at the advertising Simon already does and how it was applied at the Grove City Outlets location.

"We looked into different ways visitors could be educated while inside stores as well as walking the premises," she said. "My group's research emphasized how stores that already have major sustainable practices like Timberland should showcase that to their shoppers. Different ways they can do that is by educational t-shirts and signage."

Katella said the course opened her eyes to the world of sustainability.

"We got an in-depth look at the site and carried out research to ultimately make a positive change in different areas such as recycling, education, maintenance products and universal design," she said. "This project was important to me because we were dealing with clients that were really interested in our research and what we had to say. If things were different, it may not have been as successful as it was. As a senior, I am excited to see where future students take this project and the positive outcomes that will come from what we have started."

Elizabeth Doerner, a junior RRHM major from Webster, New York, said her work focused on formatting the information gathered as a class.

"Participating in a project at such a large scale made it more satisfying to complete, knowing that we as students fulfilled a goal that initially seemed impossible," she said. "I learned a lot of valuable skills regarding the evaluation process. I learned how first you must identify what if currently being done, what could be improved, what alternatives are available and why the alternatives should be considered/implemented."

SRU's RRHM major prepares graduates for employment in hotel and lodging management, hospitality and tourism, special events and other fields.

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