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NABERS NZ coming soon...

"Tools such as NABERS have the potential to drive the market towards higher standards of environmental performance to make what is aspirational and innovative today, business as usual tomorrow. It would seem a huge risk not to act now to improve the energy efficiency of our new and existing buildings."

 

Graham Gilleberg

By Graham Gilleberg, WSP Built Ecology.

There has been some market excitement/anticipation of NABERS NZ, a new environmental performance benchmarking tool due to be released mid-2013, but is there a need for yet another one and do they really deliver better buildings anyway?

NABERS will be a voluntary scheme, adapted from the National Australian Building Environmental Rating System to reflect New Zealand conditions and building stock. In Australia several building types can be assessed and the environmental performance relating to energy, water use, waste and internal environment quality measured and benchmarked. However in New Zealand the initial launch will concentrate on an office building tool, measuring energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to determine a rating and allow building owners and tenants to see how their building performs relative to others in its market sector. NABERS is an operational performance tool so looks at actual energy use through meter readings over a 12 month period. Ratings for base building, tenancy or a combination of the two are possible.

Before we embrace (or criticise) another benchmarking tool, we should question whether they in fact achieve what they are supposed to, i.e., do they raise standards for environmentally sustainable building design, and what is it what is it that makes us buy into it? Understanding what motivates people to incorporate good environmentally sustainable design (ESD) is good for the planet…but also good business in an era of star ratings for environmental performance and potential greenwash.

After all, good ESD is nothing new. Passive design has been used for 12,000 years all over the world to improve building performance by reducing the need for fuel and increasing occupier comfort. Pit houses were dug into the earth to take advantage of thermal mass and solar heat storage, ancient Persian buildings incorporated “bagdirs” to provide passive downdraft cooling and ventilation…even termite mounds use passive design to provide extremely successful temperature control and ventilation in harsh climates.

Council House 2Successful buildings came from a need to understand good environmental design until relatively recently when industrialisation and widespread availability of fossil fuel meant that efficiency was less of an issue; one could simply pump energy from cheap fossil fuel into a building to offset the effects of bad design and create an acceptable environment for occupants. Of course recent international concerns on the effect of greenhouse gasses on climate change and constantly increasing fuel prices have brought about resurgence in interest in efficiency and passive design with cutting edge examples in most countries such as Council House 2 in Melbourne and the Geyser Building in Auckland.

So, historically the drivers which helped promote environmental design generally related to:

  • Self-preservation/ instinct
  • availability of materials
  • climate
  • fuel, health, technology

But the current drivers relate more to complex business and CSR issues:

  • market performance of buildings which perform well and are certified against recognised benchmarks, particularly with respect to operational performance
  • policy and regulation to mitigate CO2 emissions
  • corporate reporting requirements
  • institutional investment requirements

Various “tools” have been developed to attempt to measure the quality of environmental design and raise standards by encouraging the market to move towards better buildings. BREEAM in the UK has been around since 1990 and can be used to assess the design of virtually all new buildings with some 250,000 buildings certified in 50 countries. LEED in the US then followed suit in 1998 with 40,000 projects in 135 countries certified or in the process. Green Star is the main tool used in Asia Pacific and South Africa with over 500 buildings now certified. All of these tools however focus on the design and construction phases of a new building which is of course the most critical stage in terms of embedding long term performance in a building. However it is operational performance that is the ultimate test, and also which relates to the huge stock of existing buildings which are in most cases poor performers and capable of significant improvement.

NABERS was launched in 1998 in New South Wales as the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR) and later in 2000 extended nationally, since then 66% of Australia’s office space has been rated using the tool. Mandatory assessment and disclosure of a building’s rating is required for all NLA’s of over 2000 m2. The GBCA and EECA expect a similar uptake in the New Zealand market.

So clearly the adoption of design and operational rating tools is increasingly widespread but has the market recognised these benefits and thus raised the standards for good environmental design? There is a considerable amount of research into the costs and benefits to developers, investors and occupiers looking mainly at LEED, BREEAM, Green Star and NABERS certified buildings and some interesting trends are clear:

■     Actual cost of green building is about half of the perceived cost

■     Improvement in asset value is between 5 and 25% and significantly above cost increase

■     Higher asset values relate to higher performance standards (NABERS 5 star indicates up to 21% improvement whereas 2 stars indicates a 13% discount)

■     Rent yield also improves with up to 17% premium on higher ratings and discounts on low ratings (LEED rated buildings show approximately 3% improvement per rating level)

The market certainly seems to recognise the value in good environmental design, but also the benefits in benchmarking that performance through certification. It is also discerning about the level of that performance relative to other buildings which is driving the market towards higher standards of environmental performance and making what is aspirational and innovative today, business as usual tomorrow.

NABERS NZ is at the pilot training and assessment stage and due to be introduced to the market within the next few months. It would seem a huge risk to ignore the impact this tool will have on the value of buildings in New Zealand and the potential for improving that value through good environmental design or improvements.