The sprawling Lowe’s corporate campus in Mooresville is so visible it's hard to miss, but its most appealing feature is hidden from those who don't work there.Because of security, you can't drive through the property. You can see tall buildings from Interstate 77, and fields and rooftops from nearby Fairview Road. You might get a glimpse of a campus lake from Langtree Road – but only a glimpse, and a peek doesn't do justice to an extensive water feature. Water flows under – yes, under – a building.Employees enjoy waterfalls, a reflecting pool and a walking trail around the lake and adjacent marsh. Native plants flourish – and wildlife flourishes, too. The campus is in an environmentally sensitive spot, just across the interstate from Lake Norman, and the system protects water flowing into the lake.In designing its campus and enhancing its water features, Lowe’s learned a few lessons that can be passed along to homeowners – which is fitting, given the company’s home-improvement mission.Regulations required that Lowe's manage runoff and water quality, says Michael Chenard, Lowe's director of corporate sustainability. But the company wanted to do more than the minimum to respect the environment, as it did elsewhere across the campus.It turned to LandDesign, an engineering and landscape architecture firm with offices in Charlotte, which created a water system that meets all the necessary rules – and is a beautiful amenity.Lowe's and LandDesign succeeded so well that the campus earned environmental certification even higher then they were hoping. It was as if, say, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, who is sponsored by Lowe’s, set out to win by a car length but won by a mile.
‘Like a whole different world’
Since before the campus was built, an existing wet-weather creek started near the northeast corner of the property and flowed southwest toward Lake Norman. Now, the main arm of the creek emerges in a patch of woods behind townhouses near the campus entrance off Fairview Road, near I-77 Exit 33. Gathering runoff from special water-quality features as it goes, it flows from there down toward the main buildings. Across Fairview Road from Lake Norman Regional Medical Center, bioretention ponds capture runoff from fields and pavement. They're shallow basins that hold surface water, slowing the flow off paved surfaces and allowing impurities to settle out. From there, water flows down toward the office buildings and creek.The creek passes under a building, and down a series of waterfalls, then into a series of settling areas and the main pond.There's a “green” roof over one ground-level section of a building. Grass is planted atop a space that holds the mail room and conference rooms. “Rainwater gets absorbed and treated before it flows into the ponds,” Chenard says.A shallow reflecting pool near the green roof is laid out in a checkerboard pattern. Squares of the bottom of the pool are covered with fist-size river rocks; they alternate with squares planted with horsetail. It's more than a serene setting: Water flows over and through, and is filtered of impurities.Water flowing under the building is visually striking, but there's a practical reason for that, too, says Theron Pickens, a principal in the Charlotte office of LandDesign: It minimized the impact to the existing stream’s path.The lake and adjacent marsh was built by impounding the existing stream in a natural bowl.At the head of the lake, water flows through a series of settling areas. Weirs of stone just below the water surface slow the flow so silt and other sediment settles out. From there, water flows into the main body of the open, seven-acre lake.On one side of the lake, water gurgles just outside the corporate cafeteria. The effect makes the setting seem even more rural and remote than it is. There's little to hint that busy I-77 is just through the woods. “It's like you're in a whole different world out here,” says Chris Davis, facility manager for Lowe's.A walking trail circles the lake and adjacent four-acre marsh, and workers enjoy lunchtime strolls after dining beside tumbling water. Across the lake, the marsh stretches from the open water toward Langtree Road.As Chenard stood near the dam and talked about the project during a recent visit, a red-wing blackbird he'd spotted earlier popped out of the marsh grass, flitted a few feet and dove back into the greenery. Chenard pointed out that the wetland is exactly the type of habitat the beautiful birds prefer. “It's an excellent indicator of the marsh's health,” he says.A 50-horsepower water pump keeps the water level in the marsh from falling dramatically, protecting both the plants and animals.Other wildlife is at home here, Davis and Chenard say. A heron hangs around, getting friendlier. Ducks and geese raise their broods. (And, because the entire campus is so wildlife friendly, workers sometimes have to shoo deer off the helicopter pad.) The lake is stocked with bass, bream, pinhead minnows and sterile grass carp, Davis says. Alas, snapping turtles in the water sometimes grab tiny swimming ducklings. Nature works that way.Plants were carefully chosen to enhance the habitat. “All our wetlands plantings are native to North Carolina,” Davis says.LandDesign's Pickens says plants were crucial to establishing a healthy ecosystem. Plants used extensively throughout include soft rush, pickerelweed, water lily, blue flag iris and arrowhead. Other plants, like the wild animals, sometimes move in and make themselves at home. Just as in the Everglades in Florida, workers have to remove aggressive plant intruders, Davis says.At the lower end of the lake, a stone standpipe 20 feet square allows overflow water to escape. From there it passes under I-77 and into Lake Norman.
Good as gold
Lowe's has focused on the environment since beginning work on the campus a decade ago, Chenard says.About half of the 367 acres has been developed. The property now contains 1.2 million square feet of office and related space, and 3,000 employees work on the site.Construction workers sorted the debris as buildings went up. They recycled what they could to keep everything possible out of the landfill. “I was here for the construction,” Chenard says. “Seeing them separate the debris made so much sense to me.”In some open areas, instead of typical turf grass, Lowe's planted love grass. That's a fine-leaf bunching grass that grows several feet high, and doesn't require constant tending and mowing.A field on Fairview Road, across from the hospital, is leased to a farmer. “The hay will grow up,” Chenard says. “The farmer will come in and cut it, and he gets to keep it.”As part of its focus on the environment, Lowe's hoped to achieve LEED Silver status for the campus. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and certification comes from the U.S. Green Building Council. Properties are inspected and scored by a third party. The rating is based on the total score.Silver was an ambitious goal.The environmentally sensitive features of the campus features aren’t confined to the waterscape. Street lamps are efficient LEDs, for example. Decorative architectural arbors over windows are actually sun shades to reduce heat gain. Indoors, sensors turn lights on when people enter rooms and off when the spaces aren't in use. It all adds up.Lowe's set the bar high – and cleared it easily.“We were going for LEED Silver, but we achieved Gold,” Chenard said. “... and the water feature was an important reason why.”
What lessons can homeowners learn from the Lowe’s campus?Michael Chenard, Lowe's director of corporate sustainability, says he has used some of the campus’ environmentally friendly techniques at his own home. “I've been expanding natural areas, changing the balance between natural areas and grass,” he says.An immaculate lawn requires lots of watering and mowing, of course. Natural areas are less work. Natural areas also require fewer chemicals. At the campus, workers minimize the chemicals they use to protect water quality in the elaborate water feature. They pump water out of the lake to irrigate, instead of using treated water.
-- On slopes, use plants like love grass to slow runoff and protect against erosion. Love grass is a fine, clumping grass that requires little care.-- Throughout a property, use lots of native plants, or cultivars of natives. They'll require less care and be attractive to wildlife and pollinating bees.-- Add rain gardens and bioretention basins, especially in low areas where runoff from hard surfaces like roofs, patios and driveways pools up.