Surfer's Paradise, Queensland
Surfer's Paradise, Queensland. Photo: Photo by Nick Robinson on Unsplash

NABERS has a new vision for the future, with its new five-year strategy going live last week. A few experts offered their thoughts on the journey of the national rating tool so far and what they hope to see going forward.

According to the strategy, the mission of the program run by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage on behalf of the federal government, is that “all Australian buildings are healthy, comfortable and have zero environmental impact.” 

This involves making sure every large building type can be rated using NABERS tools, which pits buildings against similar buildings to see how they do on energy performance and other impact areas, by 2023. 

The plan is to try plug the gap left by sectors that aren’t participating in the program by expanding into schools, industrial buildings, retail stores, healthcare buildings and more.

Doubling the number of NABERS ratings is also on the agenda. This will be done by driving uptake and improving existing tools. 

Driving uptake

For Luke Menzel, chief executive officer of the Energy Efficiency Council, key to driving uptake of NABERS is expanding disclosure to other asset types – such as shopping centres, hotels and data centres. 

“With the NABERS strategy now in place, attention will now turn to the outcome of the federal government’s Commercial Building Disclosure Review, which will report after the election,” he says.

“Disclosure of energy performance is light touch regulation that drives market activity towards more efficient and sustainable outcomes.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Jay Gualtieri, managing director of Ausnviro, who also believes the only way to drive other sectors to take up the tool is with the support of legislation to “really kick it down the road and get it happening”.

“This is just what happened in the office sector. Without that secondary support with legislation we won’t see these tools kick off.”

He says that if there’s a change of government at the next election, he’d expect the incoming Labor government to be more supportive of sustainability and this type of regulation.

It makes sense that the program is expanding beyond the office sector because it has now got to the point that it’s essentially self-funded, Gualtieri says. Certification fees are now paying for its operations and it now doesn’t need much government support. 

“Once they got to that level there’s pressure to continue to expand.”

What sectors are ripe for widespread NABERS take up?

Gualtieri would like to think that the recently launched residential tool, NABERS for Apartment Buildings, will become the next NABERS for Offices success story.

But he says that all sectors and building types come with a different set of challenges, and that unlike offices, residential buildings are not governed by corporates with sustainability goals. For one, they have a different set of priorities, with flammable cladding currently front of mind in the industry.

But he says the most obvious area for NABERS to be focusing on is the hotel sector because it has a similar potential to leverage incentives as the office tool.

This is because corporates and government officials could be committing to staying in minimum rated hotels, just like they have committed to limited rated tenancies. 

“Particularly with a thing like tourism becoming bigger and bigger, and hotels are essentially a booming area… there’s not even enough hotels in Melbourne, so a lot of money is being put into it.

“It’s a no brainer to push the hotel side.”

He says hotels have typically been slow to take up the tool thanks to a lack of competition in hotel ownership. He says this takes the pressure off hotel owners to compete to provide their services sustainably.

“It’s almost the same with shopping centres.”

The tool should play to its strengths 

Gualtieri says it would make sense to keep tapping into the program’s existing corporate market and bolster existing tools, including the Indoor Environment tool.

“The Indoor Environment tool is a brilliant option when you put it up against the WELL tool.”

He says the NABERS Indoor Environment tool is much more cost effective and within the control of the landlord to make improvements. WELL is more comprehensive, but more costly and the landlord has less control.

Gualtieri thinks they should be “going hard on this”, and maybe even rename it to something more descriptive. 

But what he would really like to see, as a consultant, is more stakeholder engagement.

“As far as I’m concerned money had been spread out across projects but could have been focused on more bankable outcomes. NABERS could do a better job at engaging industry and stakeholders on what they want to see.”

Director of Team Catalyst, PC Thomas, says that commitments from the market have also been driving uptake of the tool, such as the City of Sydney’s targeting of a base building rating of 5.5 star NABERS for new office developments and retrofits.

NABERS successes to date

NABERS has played an instrumental role in improving the energy efficiency of Australia’s office buildings.

“In fact, I’d argue NABERS – in concert with the Commercial Building Disclosure Program – is Australia’s most successful energy efficiency program,” Luke Menzel says.

“Of course, other efforts – like Minimum Energy Performance Standards for appliances – have also had a huge cumulative impact. 

“However, NABERS is special because of the complexity of problems it addresses, and the way that it brings people together to deal with them.”

Over 100 office buildings achieved a NABERS Energy rating of 5.5 stars or higher for the first time in FY18, he says.

According to PC Thomas, NABERS is “the only benchmark tool available in the commercial building area to document what you really do rather than have just a design.”

“It’s not really about the flashy pictures. The buildings are really being pushed to that higher commitment and made to keep performing at it. That results in real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“These are the real hallmarks of NABERS.”

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  1. With an enormous amount of high rise development in Parramatta and planned to be built there soon, I doubt we’d have 2 buildings at NABERS 5.5 or higher! A great city? Not unless there’s dramatic improvement with centralised power plants, insulation and solar energy!