An item from the “I want” wall at the Arup 50th birthday party in Sydney in August.

By Cameron Jewell

5 September 2013 — The Property Council of Australia and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council have called for an overhaul of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System, and some of the changes have already been incorporated.

The Property Council of Australia report, completed in April, calls for a comprehensive overhaul of NABERS, including changes to governance structure, the scrapping of underperforming rating tools and the reduction of costs.

This has been echoed by a draft policy statement by ASBEC, obtained by The Fifth Estate, which is yet to be signed off by its members.

The PCA report, which collated industry feedback – primarily from large portfolio owners and managers – found that while the market accepted and supported NABERS, “significant issues need to be addressed if this support is to continue”.

The recommendations of the report included overhauling the governance structure of NABERS by adopting a transparent governance structure with an independent chair; developing a mechanism to engage directly with building owners, managers and assessors; and committing to regular meetings with stakeholder groups, who, the report stated, felt “increasingly disengaged”.

The report also called for the NABERS Waste and Indoor Environment tools to be withdrawn completely, pending a review and development of an improved rating process, calling the current versions “deeply flawed”.

However, an industry source said it was possibly unfair to say that the NABERS indoor environment tool and the waste tool had not worked since they were at roughly the same take up stage as the energy tool before policy targets, so with policy targets could be just as successful.

The waste tool is currently being reviewed by Sustainability Victoria.

NABERS is also expected to soon launch an online stakeholder discussion platform developed by community engagement specialists Bang The Table, which will be trialled with the indoor environment technical group.

Cost issues with NABERS were also cited by the PCA, with the report calling for a survey of building owners to determine the “true cost” of ratings, including fees and compliance costs.

This is an issue that has also plagued the Green Building Council with tenants in particular saying they would create fitouts to Green Star standards but would not get them rated because of the cost. The GBCA is reviewing and simplifying the processes as a result.

The PCA called for a clear plan to reduce costs, much like the GBCA’s approach, including a single online assessment process; moving critical data collection to the beginning of the process; and providing clear guidelines for assessors and owners to streamline the rating process.

It said costs were inconsistent from state to state, higher than estimates provided by government and, in the case of the NABERS Waste tool, varied greatly – from around $9000 to $20,000.

Other concerns included technical issues with the tools, tool development priorities, and assessor training and assessment issues.

With the property industry having to use NABERS to comply with regulatory regimes, it said the technical robustness and governance structure of the scheme was “critically important”.

ASBEC supports change

In a draft policy position paper, ASBEC, the peak body of organisations with interests in sustainable built environment, said a rigorous and nationally consistent rating tool was pivotal to fostering a more sustainable built environment, and echoed many of the PCA’s recommendations.

Its recommendations included:

  • updating the governance structure: having a governing committee with a independent chair; stating a clear philosophy on NABERS’ purpose; consultation with stakeholders on strategic planning; and an adequate budget
  • engaging more thoroughly with industry: set and comply with a fixed engagement timetable; and act on issues that arise
  • tool development: update NABERS Office Energy and Retail Energy tools as priorities; and audit all other tools
  • technical improvements: disclosure of technical algorithms; and making sure technical amendments are finalised within defined timeframes, independently costed and done transparently
  • training and accreditation: As NABERS had “failed to educate large segments of the market”, ASBEC proposed training all participants by mobilising industry and professional associations to gain access to stakeholders; developing materials tailored to users with varying expertise; and developing accreditation pathways allowing assessors to specialise
  • metrics and data: partner with industry to tackle the problem of building owners and tenants having significant difficulties securing energy use data in a timely manner
  • customer service: establish a range of customer service benchmarks in consultation with stakeholders; and publicly report on performance

NABERS last month released its strategic plan for 2013–2018, which the national steering committee said was designed “to establish a clear and focused roadmap for the NABERS program moving forward”.

Industry concerns were incorporated into the plan, with NABERS expressing its commitment to “developing stronger stakeholder engagement policy and processes, enhancing and growing existing rating tools through strategic partnerships, exploring needs in other market sectors, and driving improvements in assessor training and technical knowledge”.

A source told The Fifth Estate that NABERS was planning to implement regular stakeholder discussions every two months following criticisms of its stakeholder engagement.

NABERS had also trialled a strategic breakfast and offered to have regular forums.