The federal government has released standards for what constitutes a carbon neutral building or precinct, with the clear definition expected to help spur the transition to a net zero sector.

In order to become carbon neutral and be able to display the government’s carbon neutral branding, buildings will have to calculate emissions for a base year, reduce those emissions “where possible” and purchase offsets to cover the rest of the building’s emissions.

A key hurdle to claiming carbon neutral status will be proving reduction in use of energy, through the attainment of at least a 4 Star NABERS Energy rating or a 4 Star Green Star – Performance rating. It’s quite a low hurdle, however, as last week we saw the average NABERS Energy rating is now 4.4 stars.

Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg said the standards had been created in close consultation with the Property Council and Green Building Council of Australia, and complemented the “incredible advances” in the property sector, “especially in energy efficiency measures, which make for more comfortable building environments, more liveable cities and reduced running costs”.

Buildings can either go for a base building rating or whole building rating, with the base building rating seen as a “stepping stone” towards whole building certification.

The draft standard had a third pathway for certification for buildings that were ineligible for NABERS or Green Star rating – directly through the federal government’s Carbon Neutral Program – however this has been deferred.

The standard covers operational energy, including scope 1 and 2 emissions, and upstream and downstream emissions (scope 3) from resource consumption and waste generation necessary for a building’s day-to-day operations. Embodied energy is not included, however the standard said embodied energy from construction materials and processes may be considered in future versions.

The release of the standards were welcomed by the Property Council and GBCA.

PCA chief executive Ken Morrison said the standards had been the result of close work between the federal and NSW governments and industry.

“The standards offer a pathway for property owners to make carbon neutral claims for their buildings and precincts,” he said.

“The good news for businesses is that those certified against the standard can use the certification trade mark to showcase their achievement.”

An unprecedented achievement

GBCA head of market transformation Jorge Chapa said large banks and real estate investment trusts would most likely be first to embrace the standards.

“Large tenants already working towards carbon neutral operations across their entire businesses will be looking for buildings that align with their commitment,” he said.

He said an agreed definition would reduce costs associated with demonstrating carbon neutrality, making it simpler for asset owners to demonstrate their achievements.

“This is a big win – and perhaps unprecedented internationally,” Mr Chapa said.

“The industry can now get to work on delivering carbon neutrality. The big question is: which company will be the first to achieve a carbon neutral portfolio?”

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  1. Designating carbon ‘building’ repositories as either ‘neutral’ or ‘zero’ makes for more branding opportunities & less meaningful real performance outcomes. How low does one go? Pretty low by these intended stndards.