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NABERS has been credited with transforming the energy profile of Australia’s office market with its energy rating tool and improving sustainability in the built environment across a wide range of sectors over the past two decades. Its annual report for 2023 has just revealed it’s now escalated that impact into warehouses, cold stores and soon, retail stores and schools.

According to Carlos Flores, director of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS), each of the achievements outlined in the newly released annual report for 2023 was delivered against a theme of “urgent and unprecedented” – a theme that’s gripped the leadership in commercial property, in particular, as it responds to the deteriorating climate.

The commitment from both NABERS and the industry shows.

Not only has the agency managed a steady increase in ratings, it has also announced a notable rollout of new NABERS rating tools for warehouses and cold stores. Soon these will be joined by ratings for schools and retail stores.

A standout among this and key for the urgent decarbonisation challenge is its Renewable Energy Indicator, released in June 2023, a powerful accelerant to shift the industry’s movement to all-electric buildings.

Another highlight for the 2022-2023 financial year is the delivery of an online platform, NABERS Perform, that streamlines the rating process for Assessors. NABERS also continues to develop the groundwork for an embodied carbon standard that’s underway through widespread consultation and collaboration with the industry.

The annual report also emphasises the growth in sustainability action beyond energy and water ratings.

It lists a 35 per cent increase in buildings certifying ratings under NABERS Waste and 23 per cent more buildings certifying under NABERS Indoor Environment in the year to 30 June.

Spotlight on shopping centres

Shopping centres, a tough sector to transform thanks to a range of specific challenges particular to the sector, have made great strides in energy efficiency. The annual report points to the transformative power inherent in “measurement leading to better management”.

According to Flores, when NABERS first started rating the energy and water consumption of shopping centres in 2010, the first cohort posted an average 0.9 star rating.

“Last year, a record 238 shopping centres obtained NABERS ratings, covering almost half of Australia’s shopping centre footprint, and the average energy rating has increased to 4.5 stars,” he says.

We are walking a narrow path to net zero. But I am confident we can walk it together, building a country where nature and the economy can both thrive

Carlos Flores

This means the amount of energy consumed by NABERS rated shopping centres has fallen dramatically, year-on-year.

Shopping centres with NABERS ratings have slashed consumption by 37 per cent on average over the past eight years.

The graph below illustrates three groups of shopping centres that joined NABERS at five year intervals. As these shopping centre owners started to measure – and then better manage – their energy efficiency, their NABERS star rating went up.

The original cohort that joined the program in 2010 had an advantage over the shopping centres that joined five years later – and were reaping the rewards of lower energy bills and better sustainability outcomes.

The same trend can also be seen when comparing the 2015 cohort with shopping centres joining NABERS in 2020. 

Average NABERS star rating for 3 cohorts of shopping centres

And while shopping centres generally are improving their energy efficiency, those joining the NABERS program are moving forward faster, the report makes clear.

GPT Group with a portfolio of 10 high quality shopping centres across Australia was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of NABERS. It started benchmarking the energy performance of its shopping centres in 2011.

According to the company’s head of sustainability and energy, Steve Ford NABERS has helped investors and tenants gain a good understanding of performance of an individual asset against others in a portfolio, or of a single asset over time.

The rating tool considers the idiosyncrasies between shopping centres, not just the energy use per square metre, he says.

“A simple outcome of stars, and now renewable energy percentages, can be what attracts green finance or gets buy-in for energy efficiency projects,” Ford says.

“The uplift in a NABERS rating can be the extra incentive that gets capital investment over the line.”

There was also the crucial insight his team has gained from its long collaboration with NABERS.

“Our biggest lesson from working with NABERS has been to pay greater attention to the changing profile of our assets. Shopping centres aren’t stagnant. They are in perpetual change. NABERS helps us understand and respond to those changes.”

Tens of thousands of retail stores still fall outside the scope of NABERS, but the agency predicts a retail energy revolution after the launch of its NABERS Energy for Retail Stores in 2024.

Working together to cut carbon

Flores says the agency’s success depends on the continued help of industry, governments and stakeholders along the length of the value chain.

“At NABERS, we feel fortunate for the opportunity to be able to work with many people who are spending much of their careers trying to make a difference for the planet.

“We are walking a narrow path to net zero. But I am confident we can walk it together, building a country where nature and the economy can both thrive.”

Other NABERS highlights from the 2023 financial year include:

  • 21 per cent growth in Sustainable Portfolios Index ratings
  • 27 per cent increase in rated data centres 
  • 26 per cent increase in offices with NABERS Indoor Environment ratings   
  • 200 per cent growth in offices with NABERS Waste ratings of 5 or more stars
  • 18 per cent increase in shopping centres with repeat ratings
  • 85 per cent of survey respondents in agreement with NABERS’ approach to measuring embodied carbon. 

The steady growth in NABERS ratings, delivery of new NABERS rating tools and enhancements, overwhelming support for the NABERS approach to embodied carbon and enthusiasm for the new Renewable Energy Indicator are just four signs of the national shift towards sustainability in 2023, Flores says.

Speaking at the launch in September last year of the NABERS rating tool for Warehouses and Cold Stores, the Australian government’s Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister, was optimistic.

The agency has also started developing the rating tool for embodied carbon and expects to launch this in mid-2024.

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  1. Great to see. We have come a long way since the first rating tools of the early 1990’s. Which builders totally ignored.