Tim Jones

18 June 2014 — The uptake of NABERS in Australia suggests that the rating system has been well received (70 per cent of the office market), has a demonstrable impact on returns for owners; and makes buildings more attractive to potential tenants in terms of operating expense savings (up to 29 per cent after eight years).

Data from the Green Property Index vividly demonstrates the correlation between greener design, efficient buildings and their relatively higher value.

Initially the rating scheme was promoted via government agencies mandating that the property they lease would have to have a NABERS rating. In a relatively short space of time the rating system became part of the mainstream language of the property world.

It was in 2010 that the scheme really took off when it was made mandatory to disclose some commercial properties’ ratings through the Commercial Buildings Disclosure program. NABERS is now recognised as one of the most robust and relevant tools for reporting on building energy efficiency (or lack thereof).

In New Zealand, it looks like the government is unlikely to mandate for NABERS NZ to become compulsory in the near future, so what will be the force that creates the desire for the rating?

In the post-earthquake Christchurch commercial property market, many companies have relocated to outlying suburbs. They are comfortable, relatively new buildings. Staff members have had three years to adapt to a new commute and clients have coped with the diaspora.

The promise and allure of the “rebuild” and the shiny, brand new buildings of the new CBD is clearly a threat to the landlords in the suburbs. Many of the leases signed post-earthquake are not far off a review and so the race is on to convince these tenants that a move to the CBD is perhaps risky business.

Leases at the $400 a square metre and higher in the CBD are being tolerated in exchange for the cachet of the postcode. However, if the “suburban” developments get their NABERS NZ ratings completed by early 2015, will we see a two-tier market created at a more rapid rate than pre-quake?

With the cost challenges of construction in the CBD, it seems that “green” or “sustainable” design is not high on many peoples agendas. While seeking a Green Star rating may seem like a luxury in the current climate, it would seem prudent at least to aim for a decent NABERS NZ rating.

When we factor in the projected oversupply of commercial property in the CBD, as reported in late 2013 by Colliers, it would seem doubly expedient to have some competitive edge over competitors both adjacent and in the other areas of town.

If you were a suburban tenant, already paying $100 a sq m less than the CBD, and your building owner approached you with a comprehensive program to consistently lower your OPEX if you agreed to stay put, you would be hard pressed to say “no thanks”, surely?

And so will we see an escalation in the race to NABERS NZ certification, with the new CBD developments pushed to aim for a higher level of environmentally sustainable design and more consideration given to ongoing performance of a building than perhaps we are currently seeing?

Ironically, the NABERS system was the brainchild of two expat pom, Kiwi-based architects, but as is so often the case with great Kiwi IP, it finds its initial success overseas.

We market ourselves as 100 per cent clean green NZ, but can and will we let our Aussie brothers and sisters continue to beat us in the design and construction of high performing buildings?

The challenge is there for us; will we find the leadership to take it on?

See more details on NABERS NZ

Tim Jones is group manager of property consultancy Hampton Jones in Christchurch, New Zealand.