On underground agitators and agitprops

Here’s the buzz that’s been doing the rounds at the smart end of town. There’s a push on for mandatory NABERS energy ratings for tenants.

That’s right.

This little underground movement that we first heard about four or five months ago seems to be picking up pace and at several of the fantastic events we’ve crammed in the pre-Christmas rush we’re getting the same tip.

Here’s why: According to Matt Greening, who co-owns consultancy NettZero with David Brookes, tenants consume 50-60 per cent of the energy used in a building. So while the owners and building managers have been doing their best to bring down greenhouse gas consumption and bills (same thing) what have the tenants been doing?

Not much at all it turns out.

We’ve heard mutterings for years that top end of town tenants move into glitzy green new office buildings only to do whatever tenancy fitout they like at the backend where the clients are not invited.

Meanwhile the owners have for years been tip-toeing gently around these awfully sensitive creatures, scared to even speak to them in case they get ideas to pick up sticks.

But things are changing.

Several industry leaders are starting to agitate for the mandatory Commercial Building Disclosure legislation of NABERS energy ratings to be extended to tenancies.

It makes sense.

Right now of course, the CBD program is under threat. The Feds have called for a review. The industry loves it. It’s transformed the energy profile of at the biggest offices buildings in the land; it’s saved owners and investors but that’s not enough to save the scheme.

In fact talk at the CitySwitch awards this week in Sydney (the national awards in Melbourne are also scheduled for tonight (Thursday)) was that CBD might be canned anyway.

Part of it might already be lost with the Property Council inexplicably saying it’s happy to lose the Tenancy Lighting Assessment component of the CBD.

Not so inexplicable, actually, because the PCA’s core constituency is the top end of town that says it’s getting on the job anyway and doesn’t want or need to have this mandated. It’s a different story for the B and the C grade building owners.

Any interest in starting the B-Team for Property Association?

There would be plenty of members. Or should be.

A bit of a nudge is needed in that direction by the way of some complementary regulation.

Which may be why the industry is starting to look and agitate for a NABERS expansion, which we presume would apply to smaller tenancies. Or maybe should.

So far everyone still wants to stay off the record. We get the sense that will change soon.

Matt Greening has another interesting fact. Nearly half the electricity bill in an office tenancy comes from the lighting.

By improving the lighting from old school to say T5 or fluorescent lamps the energy efficiency would leap from 15-17 watts per square metre to 7-7.5 a sq m.

So if tenants consume half the building’s energy and the lighting is half of that, then this better lighting would shave energy consumption by 25 per cent on average (our maths).

Greening says tenants just don’t get that. Most are too busy doing the day job, no doubt, but if only they would sit down and work out how much money they could put in the bank if they did embark on a lighting upgrade, it could make a big dent in the problem.

“Unfortunately they don’t look at it,” Greening says.

Of course the other issue is with the split incentive, where it’s the owners job to maintain or upgrade the lights but the tenant gets the benefit.

As one observer told us a few months ago, this would be a perfect area for environmental upgrade agreements to make an impact. And they need to do so somewhere. We’re still waiting, industry!

The other thing that’s driving this close attention to the CBD is jobs. If it gets axed many people would lose their jobs.

Greening’s company a few weeks ago put out a search for a new NABERS assessor to add to the team of eight in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. That’s largely on the strength of work picking up, particularly in shopping centres, which seem to be finally starting to catch up to the commercial property sector.

“We’ve got the best pipeline of work we’ve had for a long time – a lot of voluntary stuff, especially in retail and shopping centres there’s a bit of interest at the moment,” Greening says, but if CBD goes it will be tough to keep the optimism going. A CBD for tenancies would be some nice insurance. And be good for the planet.

CitySwitch awards

Speaking of tenants and energy, it was really good to chat to some agents from Knight Frank and JLL to hear how the tenants had lifted their game remarkably in recent times.

We recall only a few years ago sitting in on a building tenants meeting run by JLL to hear from the rep from a big legal firm about how hard it was to engage lawyers in energy efficiency and sustainability. Not any more, said the rep we were speaking to. In the new building they’ve moved into everything has changed and they have become champions of green.

How nice to hear. Apparently lawyers are either the best or the worst, depending on the leadership they have. They like leadership.

Well, don’t we all?


And that takes us to the other big leadership question in Victoria.

By Saturday hopefully Victoria will have a new government. And we say that because as all our readers should know by now, that’s not because we are in the least bit party political. No Siree. We don’t care what colours are on the flag of the people who want to save our planet. Just as long as they do it.

The Coalition, which always seemed to us to be currying favour with the Institute of Public Affairs and their pals, has an appalling record on the environment. It’s ditched the Greener Government Building Program and promised the same with the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target, plus anything else they could get their hands on that has a shade of green.

Pity the Labor Party doesn’t seem to have fully latched on to the huge political opportunity this presents. It seems to be playing dumb. At least we hope it’s playing.

So for this election we will take a leaf out of the master of media himself, his dark royalness Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is unflinching in his politics: he always backs self-interest.

We’ll do the same.

Vote for the party that cares most about us. And our best interests are an environment and climate we can live in. Some of us can’t afford private armies to keep the hungry hordes from our doors, or mountain tops to avoid flooding.

And if you’re picking from a bad line up pick the ones who are closest and then go hell for leather to convince them to up their game or you will stop voting for them.

We’re on track to 4°C warming here.

In the now immortal words of Lou Reed, there is no time.

Greens with preferences to Labor.

Get rid of the Victorian Coalition. They are planet eaters.