By Eliza Lajoie
Since opening in 2007, Patriot Place has sold eager consumers everything from seafood to sweat socks to scented candles.
Now, the Foxboro shopping mall is pitching a new product: environmentalism. Organizers hope a recent solar-energy initiative will remind shoppers that green is not just the color of money but also of sustainability.
To develop its new image as an oasis of both types of green, Patriot Place has installed efficient hand dryers in bathrooms, strategically placed recycling bins on walkways and employs EnergyStar-certified equipment whenever possible.
But the sustainability campaign culminated in the completion of a 525-kilowatt rooftop solar power system, feted at Monday's opening ceremony at the mall, which featured Patriot Place owner Robert Kraft, state Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton.
Begun in 2009, the project installed a final total of 2,556 panels atop buildings in the mall's north plaza. The panels, which were manufactured by Marlboro-based Evergreen Solar, now provide 30 percent of the facility's energy.
It is the largest rooftop solar installation in Massachusetts.
"I (have to) pinch myself," Kraft said of the project's completion.
Speaking before a backdrop of bustling parking lots in the shadow of Gillette Stadium, Kraft stressed the importance of sustainability, which he called a "governing rule" at the facility.
Frank, in turn, stressed the importance of government and private sector cooperation in sustainability projects like the solar panel initiative. He noted that the federal stimulus package provides funding for such efforts.
Frank also expressed hope that publicity for the project may help erase the conception of environmentalism as a mere "hobby for strange people."
Instead, sustainability is an important "source of further economic strength" Frank said, citing the tan, blue-blazered Kraft, smiling before a crowd of excited shoppers brandishing cell phone cameras, as a new face of the green movement.
Organizers hope the highly publicized project will also encourage other Massachusetts businesses and residents to embrace solar power.
"This is just the beginning," said Michael Smith, who leads green initiatives for Constellation Energy, the company that installed the panels.
Smith expressed faith in the simple, latticed black rectangles' "potential for ubiquity" because they are relatively unobtrusive and easy to install.
"This is the face of modern sustainable development," Smith said.