By Lynne Blundell
19 August 2011 – NABERS yesterday launched a new 6-star energy and water rating for buildings and announced new ratings tools for transport, data centres and hospitals. But while the launch was lauded by many in the industry, others were less enthusiastic, the Property Council’s chief executive officer Peter Verwer accusing NABERS of failing to consult with industry, a claim that NABERS denied.

In launching the new higher rating, chief executive of the Office of Environment and Heritage, Lisa Corbyn, said the extra NABERS star was acknowledgement that the Australian property industry was reaching a standard previously considered beyond world’s best practice.

“In the 10 years since the NSW Government introduced the first environmental performance rating for offices, Australian commercial buildings have become so much more efficient that the time has come to introduce a sixth star,” Ms Corbyn said.

“We are immensely proud of what NABERS has achieved. Around Australia 60 per cent of office space has been rated by NABERS Energy. In NSW that figure rises to 68 per cent.”

Presentations: Lisa Corbyn and Bill Harnett, head of sustainability Local Government Super

Ms Corbyn said that on average buildings using NABERS ratings had improved their emissions performance by 11.5 per cent and water efficiency by nine per cent. In total, NABERS-rated buildings were saving 257,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and 1.1billion litres of water a year. Those who now manage to move from a 5 to 6 star rating will cut emissions and water use by another 50 per cent.

“When the NABERS scheme was first launched in 1999 2.5 stars was set as the average building performance and 5 stars was an aspirational target that no building had yet achieved. A decade on efficiency has improved due to the widespread use of NABERS. Five per cent of buildings are achieving five stars, with a number performing significantly better. From today NABERS will now be awarding six star ratings. This is a move that follows extensive consultation with industry and has received widespread support,” Ms Corby said.

A number of building owners and tenants were presented with certificates for 5.5 and 6 Star performance at the launch.

Standout performers were Local Government Super, receiving nine certificates for 6-star energy ratings on both offices and shopping centres, and GPT, receiving seven certificates for 5.5 and 6 star energy and water ratings on office buildings. Both organisations also signed 6 star NABERS Energy Commitment Agreements, GPT along with Grocon for the heritage building Legion House in Sydney, and LGS for its retrofitting of 76 Berry Street North Sydney (see our case studies of these).

Other NSW organisations to receive awards for 5.5 and 6 star ratings for energy and/or water included Stockland for a shopping centre, Parramatta City Council for its administration building, the Green Building Council of Australia for its tenancy, Ausgrid and Colonial First State.

Left to right: Kate Gunton, executive manager property Ausgrid, Lisa Corbyn

Property Council CEO wants more consultation
But not everybody is happy about the NABERS announcement. Immediately following the launch Peter Verwer, Chief executive of the Property Council of Australia, issued a media statement, slamming the NABERS team for their lack of transparency and industry consultation.

Mr Verwer told The Fifth Estate the Property Council and the property industry was sick and tired of token consultation from NABERS and said there had been very little notice to industry of the changes to the NABERS scheme.  He said it was time government took back control of NABERS by giving it a modern board with an independent chair and world-class corporate governance.

Mr Verwer also took exception to Thursday’s announcement that the existing NABERS office tool methodology would be changed in favour of the different approach used for hotels and shopping centres.

A fact sheet released by NABERS at the launch announced that over the next two years, the NABERS office tool calculation methodology and benchmarks will be modified to work the same way as the hotel and shopping centre tools, aligning the suite of tools and making it possible to use them together to rate a multi-use building. The rating scale would be reviewed again, with a view to potentially incorporating recognition of zero emissions performance and a 7 star rating.

According to the fact sheet, while a climate correction is currently applied to ratings from 0 to 5 stars, no climate correction will be applied to ratings above 5 stars. “This is because the highest performing buildings are generally designed to be climate-independent,“ it said.

Mr Verwer said the lack of climate correction in the 6-star rating meant that an office in Brisbane would find it 2.5 times harder to achieve the rating than an office in Sydney.

“I have not had any satisfactory explanation from NABERS as to how this works,” said Mr Verwer.

“Organisations in the property industry are used to the most scrupulous standards of corporate governance and they live and die by the veracity of their information. For some reason NABERS doesn’t see the need for these same standards.”

Matthew Clark, director of energy and water programs in the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, told The Fifth Estate in response that changes to the office tool methodology to bring it more in line with the hotel and shopping centre tools, were not yet locked in and would only happen in full consultation with industry. He acknowledged that under the new rating it would be more difficult for a building located in a hot climate to achieve 6 stars but said this was an issue that needed to be addressed by the industry as a whole.

“This new 6 star rating reflects the global move towards zero emissions. Up to 5 Stars the rating is climate adjusted but from 5 to 6 stars it is about moving towards zero emissions. The reality is that it is harder to achieve zero emissions in hotter climates and currently technology is not addressing this. It is not so much a rating issue as a climate issue and this is something that might be addressed through future technology,” Mr Clark said.

Guests at the NABERS 6 star launch

Consultation included 23 submissions
Regarding consultation, Mr Clark said he believed there had been extensive consultation, with 23 submissions received through a public process and regular meetings of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee allowing input from the Property Council and other industry representatives. NABERS had received correspondence from the Property Council outlining a number of issues which the NABERS team had endeavoured to address, including those regarding the tool’s transparency.

“Currently the NABERS algorithms are publicly available and if anyone wants access to the underlying maths of these they are required to pay for that. We are looking at the possibility of opening that up so that payment may only be required if an organisation is going to make money out of using the underlying information,” said Clark.

NABERS had also taken on board criticisms over its governance and was looking to review its governance structure to ensure there was a level of oversight “sufficient for a tool of NABERS’ stature”.

“People do trust NABERS. We know it works well and there is no vested interest controlling it. It is like an independent umpire. The fact that it is managed by government allows us to be independent with adequate distance from industry. At the same time we want industry to have an advisory role as well as a sense of ownership so we are looking at how to bring industry in at a senior advisory level. It would be a significant change if we lost government oversight,” said Mr Clark.

NABERS plans to introduce several new rating tools over the next 18 months including ratings for transport, data centres and hospitals. The transport tool, which Mr Clark said would allow organisations to measure the efficiency of the transport used by its employees, will be launched in September, followed by the data centre tool in the first half of next year.

Guests at the launch

GBCA says Like
The Green Building Council has welcomed the extension of the NABERS office tool. GBCA’s executive director – Green Star, Andrew Aitken, said it reflected the fact that many buildings are moving above and beyond established benchmarks.

“The global green building industry is evolving rapidly and buildings that are carbon neutral, carbon positive and even restorative are rapidly becoming a reality. Rating tools such as Green Star and NABERS must keep evolving
to keep up with best practice,” Mr Aitken said.

The GBCA is working closely with NABERS to develop its Green Star Performance tool.

Mr Aitken said feedback from GBCA stakeholders showed industry wanted the performance tool to use NABERS reporting standards. As a result the GBCA was collaborating with NABERS to ensure it  delivers a new tool that is consistent, rigorous and easy to use.

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