Mary-Jane Daly

The new chair of the New Zealand Green Building Council, Mary-Jane Daly, is taking the helm at a time when the organisation is seeing a dramatic upsurge in commitment to a more sustainable property sector.

More property owners are seeing the links between good design and actual sustainable performance, she told The Fifth Estate, and the premium end of the market, including both owners and major corporate tenants, “absolutely gets it.”

It’s reflected in the numbers, with the NZGBC seeing its busiest year yet for Green Star registrations – 25 this year, up from 15 last year. The organisation has also delivered four custom Green Star tools and seen 17 registrations for NABERSNZ, which it administers.

One of the real standouts has been the residential tool, Homestar, with 3000 dwellings registering for ratings in 2015 – up from 300 last year.

The BASE tool, developed specifically for the Christchurch rebuild, is winding down, as the NZGBC plans to weight its efforts towards performance in 2016, and ensuring that the work done on energy modelling during the design phase follows through to construction and operation.

Ms Daly said that the NZ market was seeing an increase in overseas investment from countries like Singapore and Canada, which was supporting the momentum around sustainable buildings.

One of the challenges, she said, was that the country lacked substantial local data for the business case, so relied on data from overseas.

In the residential sector, however, a growing awareness among owners of the cold, damp nature of business-as-usual dwellings is creating momentum around Homestar.

The emphasis on Homestar ratings in the Auckland Unitary Plan was also stimulating opportunities, Ms Daly said.

In the commercial sector, there is a growing opportunity to draw on the link between design and performance.

“Almost all the listed portfolio owners are getting ready to rate their portfolios with NABERSNZ over the next couple of years,” Ms Daly said. This includes Kiwi Property Group, of which she is an independent director.

The portfolio owners are also responding to the fact tenants are starting to compare building performance, Ms Daly said. The government sector, big corporations and the financial services firms are particularly focused on the sustainability aspects.

Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter is setting a good example, with projects including Goodman and Fletcher’s joint venture commercial development that has dairy giant Fonterra lined up as an anchor tenant targeting Green Star ratings across design, built and interiors.

Ms Daly said there was a growing appreciation at the top end of town regarding the link between sustainable design and performance, and the wellness of occupants.

But the smaller and medium end of the market has been slower to gain momentum, she said. This is due to both a focus on cost considerations, and people not understanding the business case fully.

“With a smaller business, [sustainability of buildings] tends to be less of a priority,” Ms Daly said.

“With a large employer, when you are providing a really good environment for your staff, the benefits feel a lot more tangible. With a smaller firm, in terms of employees, the value proposition is different.”

Restructure under way

The NZGBC is in the process of a restructure, with changes to the governance structure including reducing the size of the board from 14 members to eight so it can operate on a more strategic level, Ms Daly said.

It also plans to act in “a more commercial way”, Ms Daly said.

To ensure continuity around knowledge, an advisory group has been formed that includes former board members.

While Ian Wheeler of Panuku Development Auckland has retired from the board, Matt Lee from WSP New Zealand and Mark Fraser from Hobsonville Land Company have moved to the new advisory group.

“Ian Wheeler has been a hugely valuable board member, providing strategic advice and an insight into property issues from a public sector perspective,” Ms Daly said.

“While Matt Lee and Mark Fraser are no longer on the board, the NZGBC will continue to benefit from their expertise through the advisory group. Matt brings a wealth of experience across the engineering and infrastructure sector, while Mark’s skill in residential development will be of great value. They will provide a rich resource for the NZGBC management team.”

The advisory group will be chaired by board member Simon Wilson of RDT Pacific.

NZGBC is also reviewing its tools, and engaging with industry stakeholders to ensure it can reorient and work well and effectively with industry, Ms Daly said.

She said the advisory group was primarily oriented to engage and work with NZGBC members, and would help to ensure the organisation is working on projects relevant to members. This will flow through to the operational level too.

“We want to grow the advocacy,” Ms Daly said.

“There is good momentum around Homestar, and a good uptake of Green Star. We want to increase this strong support, and position [the NZGBC] so it can support that.”

Reflecting on COP21 and its implications for the built environment in NZ, Ms Daly said it was “really inspiring to see concrete targets with new global alliances”.

There are great companies pledging to work to achieve emissions reductions, she said, and some of them have an NZ presence.

“It will be interesting to see if that translates into action and leadership.”

Ms Daly said the NZGBC will promote the World Green Building Council program announced during COP21.

“I hope it builds momentum,” she said.

Buildings being so central to the built environment and its emissions, she said the emphasis on lowering emissions needed to include how places are “planned, refreshed and energised”. In Auckland, particularly, there is a “massive focus” on improving the quality of the housing stock.

There is also growing momentum around the refurbishment and upgrade of existing building stock generally, Ms Daly said.

“As more people see and hear about the operational costs and decreased health [of existing buildings], there is both a push and a pull factor around getting that changed.”

Reputation is also a factor for the listed property companies, she said, and this is where NABERSNZ gains traction as it provides transparency around performance.

“Reputation is a value people do hold dear in New Zealand.”