385 Bourke Street, Melbourne

By Tina Perinotto

The property industry might be in the clutches of the global financial crisis but this hasn’t stopped the biggest commercial property owners – and many not so big – digging deep to in order to qualify for a 50:50 green building fund grant from the Federal Government to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

Most of the well known names were there – AMP, ISPT, Abacus, GPT and Mirvac, Valad, Westpac and FKP – claiming the maximum or close to the maximum grant of $500,000 – in the first two rounds of grants.

But one property owner stood out – Commonwealth Property Office Fund.

Not only did it pull out the stops to claim funding for three of its buildings but it managed to lodge a successful case to snare a special grant of nearly $3 million in order to install a wind array scheme on the roof of its
385 Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Bronwyn Williams, manager, Green Building Fund, which is being administered by AusIndustry,the
program delivery arm of the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry,
Science and Research, said the fund program has been a huge success.

“We’ve been delighted with the response,” Ms Williams said.

“With the GFC [Global Financial Crisis] the timing was very good.”

So far 90 property owners have taken up the offer in Rounds 1 and 2 (Round 3 is closed but the date has not yet been released) and new rounds are available up until 27 April 2010 to lodge an application.

All of these are part of Stream 1 for building owners. Stream B is for industry associations or industry bodies. So far only the Warren Centre and the Facility Managers Association have taken up offers for their entitlements, which run to a maximum of $200,000.

Ms Williams said most of the recipients in Stream A so far were larger property owners but it was hoped that smaller landlords would also come aboard and take up the offers.

So how exactly do the winners so far plan to spend their grants? And what were the key judging criteria?

The Commonwealth Property Office Fund grant for 385 Bourke Street was one-off, awarded on the basis that the wind array would not only achieve world’s best practice but that it was setting out to achieve carbon neutrality for the building, Ms Williams said.

Equally important, however, was that the technology would be an exemplar for the industry and that the Commonwealth Property Office Fund agree to share knowledge over it.

But each application was assessed on a range of criteria, which was awarded points.

“The biggest criteria on eligibility is that at least 70 per cent of the floor space must be commercial space,” Ms Williams said.

Another big component – 60 per cent of the score – was based on how big was the expected greenhouse gas savings. “This is unashamedly about reducing greenhouse gasses”, Ms Williams said.

“Each applicant was required to provide a testament from a NABERS assessor. We don’t ask for a full NABERS rating but we do require a full accredited assessor to verify the current energy use of the building.”

Ms Williams said that most popular items in the list of requests to green existing buildings were lighting systems for common areas, new chillers and new building management systems, Ms Williams said.

Some owners opted to place external shading on the buildings, so that they could reduce the demand on energy, “rather than increasing the efficiency of   machines.”

Interestingly, and creatively perhaps, the Green Building Fund grants awarded 20 per cent of points for intentions on demonstration.

In other words, said Ms Williams, “Do you have a good story to tell? Have you got a commitment to tell it, is it a story worth telling? With some, it was what are you measuring, and do you have a strategy to tell the story?”

This was about telling the “bad story” too if required.

During a consultation process industry members revealed, not surprisingly  perhaps, a reluctance to share negative information.

“In the consultation we were given certain messages: ‘as an industry we don’t like to tell bad news…so please help us tell the bad news,’” Ms Williams said.

Among the key message that came out during the consultation was that the industry falls a little short on commissioning of new equipment, Ms Williams said.

Often it’s a case of  “we get that new thing in and a year later we wonder why we’re not reaping the benefit,”

So another good point scorer was the intention of owners to ensure sufficient training for new building management systems and to “use the systems as they were meant to be used.”

A little nudge from the Green Building Fund has obviously helped.

“A significant number of them have agreed to share the data. But it’s not only whether they make the commitment but that they are measuring and monitoring systems and that they have the capacity [to do so].”

Overall, said Ms Williams, the results of the fund so far are that more than 80 per cent of applicants who were awarded funding in the first two rounds offered greenhouse gas savings of 20 tonnes per 1000 square metres a year. And over 90 per cent of successful applicants demonstrated that they could achieve a total building savings of at least 200 tonnes a year.

Now that’s progress.

340 Adelaide Street Brisbane

Property Owners who have been awarded Green Building Fund grants of around the maximum of $500,000 to improve the energy use in existing buildings.

  • ISPT for 2 Londsdale Street, Melbourne
  • Westpac Funds management Ltd for 121 Henry Street Penrith
  • Fortius Funds Management at 100 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley
  • Abacus Funds Management for 51 Allara Street, Canberra
  • Mirvac REIT Management for 340 Adelaide Street, Brisbane
  • Valad Commercial Management for 227 Elizabeth Street Sydney
  • Bent Holdings for 2 Bligh Street, Sydney
  • Cromwell Property Securities for 321 Exhibition Street
  • AMP Capital Investors for 600 Bourke Street
  • FKP Funds Management for 56 Clarence Street, Sydney
  • GPT Funds management for 530 Collins Street, Melbourne