Is high-tech wizardry the secret to creating Australia’s most energy efficient office? Or does cutting edge design hold the key? Neither, says the national program manager for NABERS, Carlos Flores.
Australia’s offices are among the world’s greenest – as seven years leading the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark confirms. Building owners continue to push the boundaries of best practice, and as they do, a 6 star NABERS Energy rating – once outside the realms of reality – is now achievable.
Eighty-one per cent of Australia’s office market is rated by NABERS, or the National Australian Built Environment Rating System. This rating system measures a building’s energy efficiency and carbon emissions, as well as water consumed, waste produced and the quality of the indoor environment, and compares it to similar buildings.
NABERS rates both office buildings and tenancies, as well as a host of other building types, including apartment buildings, shopping centres and hotels. Using a 6-star scale, NABERS helps owners and tenants to understand the impact of their building on the environment.
Just a few years ago a 4 star NABERS Energy rating was applauded as “above average performance” but, Flores says, “the office market has moved so fast and so far, that a 4 star rating is now just about average performance”.
A 5 star rating means that a building is 30 to 40 per cent more energy and emissions efficient than average practice, and a 6 star rating is 70 to 80 per cent more efficient than the average building.
Star performers in the spotlight
Thirteen office buildings and eight office tenancies have achieved 6 star NABERS Energy ratings.
Flores says some of these “trailblazers” are “really pushing the boundaries of combining technology and effective operation to achieve 6 stars.” In some instances, building owners have capitalised on roof space by installing solar panels. Others have optimised their buildings’ access to natural light to reduce the need for artificial lighting.
“However, several buildings can be market-leading with relatively conventional technology, combined with highly competent operation, examining every opportunity to make their systems more efficient,” Flores adds.
“Achieving 6 stars on one building is already an outstanding achievement. However, doing this across a large office portfolio would be unprecedented, not just in Australia but around the world.
“It will require technology to become more effective and intuitive in helping building management identify and remove energy waste throughout the asset. I think 6 stars NABERS Energy will become the new benchmark over the next few years, and a key milestone in bringing our buildings towards zero in a carbon-constrained world.”
Different building, same driver
A 6 star NABERS Energy building can be a glittering glass tower in the CBD or a low-rise suburban superstar. They are found not just in Sydney and Melbourne, but Homebush, Gunnedah and the Gold Coast.
“What all 6 star buildings have in common is incredibly good operations and maintenance, and effective collaboration with tenants,” Flores emphasises.
Tenants can play two important roles in driving down emissions in their buildings, while cutting costs and creating positive and productive workplaces.
“A large proportion of Australian businesses generate the bulk of their emissions through powering their office. These businesses can drive down carbon emissions without requiring a lot of new technology,” Flores explains.
Look around at the equipment in your office, Flores advises. Can you use laptops instead of desktops? Can you move your system to the cloud? And are you leaving the lights on at night? And if you are, is the whole floor lit just because of one person staying very late? These are simple things most office tenants can do to reduce their energy and emissions.
Raising the bar
The second role for tenants is to “use their procurement power to set a minimum 5 star NABERS rating for the premises they occupy,” Flores adds.
“When it comes to energy efficiency, not all buildings are created equal. Some are much more sustainable than others. Many organisations, including banks and most government departments, are setting requirements that tackle their internal carbon emissions and influence the entire supply chain. This commitment is having a huge impact on the office market.”
Dexus has achieved NABERS Energy ratings of 5 stars or above at 40 office properties, or 74 per cent of its office portfolio. Eighteen properties are rated 5.5 stars or above. And Dexus has set its sights on 6 star NABERS Energy ratings as it moves towards a ‘net zero’ property portfolio by 2030.
Flores says Dexus has “long history of putting in place targets and challenges – and then meeting them – and their aspiration to achieve a 6 star NABERS Energy ratings across their entire portfolio will be a great force for change in the market.”
Flores has one clear message for everyone with an interest in offices – whether that’s as an owner, a tenant, or someone turning up to work each day.
“Now is the time to work together,” he says, adding that the new Co-Assess platform can help tenants gain a NABERS Energy rating for their individual workspace.
“To build a more sustainable future, we need our workplaces to become more sustainable. With building owners and tenants working closely together we can,” Flores concludes.
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