A coalition of New Zealand’s leading commercial property owners and tenants has thrown down the gauntlet to the NZ Government to step up energy efficiency on its own buildings, potentially saving $50 million or up to $100m for taxpayers.

The 23 business leaders, brought together by the NZ Green Building Council, have committed to undertaking either NABERSNZ or Green Star performance ratings across all of their properties and tenancies. They want the government to do the same.

The group includes Auckland Airport, Westpac, Fuji Xerox, Wellington City Council, Auckland Council, Hawkins Construction, GHD, NDY, Schneider Electric, Bayleys Real Estate, Kiwi Property, Opus International Consultants, Philips, Stride Property Group, Warren and Mahoney, and Watercare, among others.

“Our organisations together are worth billions of dollars, and employ tens of thousands of New Zealanders,” the business leaders said in a joint statement released last week.

“We make a significant contribution to the national economy. And we also consume a significant amount of energy through the hundreds of buildings we own and occupy.”

As part of their commitment to undertake ratings, the group has also pledged to improve the performance of their buildings.

“We are doing this for a number of reasons: to improve our environment; to cut running costs; to look after the health of our buildings and our employees; and, mostly, because it’s just simple common sense.

“It’s time for our economy to shift in the direction we are taking, to take a cleaner, smarter, healthier and more efficient direction. It’s time for all of New Zealand’s buildings to make the shift that we are making.

“We are now calling on the government to back our commitment, and, further, to do all it can to benchmark their energy use and encourage all New Zealand businesses and other organisations to become more energy efficient.”

Andrew Eagles, chief executive of the New Zealand Green Building Council, said New Zealand has been a “laggard” when it comes to energy efficient buildings.

“We’re decades behind most of the OECD.”

He said the coalition’s stance is a “game changing commitment”.

“Making our buildings more energy efficient is a relatively cheap, brilliantly effective, and fast way to tackle climate change. And it also has the huge bonus of slashing energy bills.

“It’s high time now for the government to follow the lead of our top businesses, and back this clever, cleaner shift to a brighter, healthier, more productive New Zealand.”

Mr Eagles told The Fifth Estate that so far, the government has not responded to the challenge.

The Fifth Estate emailed newly elected prime minister Jacinda Ardern and minister for energy and resources Dr Megan Woods for a comment, but did not receive a reply before time of publication.

Mr Eagles said the nucleus of the coalition was some of the participants already committed to using either NABERSNZ or Green Star Performance because they wanted to reduce their energy costs and have more productive buildings.

Others had been in conversations with the NZGBC about potential uptake.

However, it is the government’s lack of adoption of energy rating requirements for its own tenancies that led the companies to band together and “put a stake in the sand”, Mr Eagles said.

Together they are saying “come on government, why won’t you commit – we have,” Mr Eagles said.

Where’s government as a driver?

Currently around 60 NABERSNZ ratings have been certified.

“The reason we are so far behind compared to Australia is because the government isn’t driving it through their tenancies, and we don’t have [mandatory disclosure].”

No government departments have been asking for NABERSNZ ratings on their tenancies.

Mr Eagles said the Property Council of New Zealand is a supporter of mandatory disclosure of NABERSNZ ratings being implemented in NZ.

“What’s ridiculous about the current situation – and it has been like this for the past couple of years – is we have property owners saying they support mandatory disclosure, but the government has not responded.”

Mr Eagles said the coalition is not calling for the government to set a minimum NABERSNZ rating that will be acceptable for its tenancies, just for it to have transparency about the energy performance of its properties.

The government could also use Green Star Performance to rate the energy efficiency of their non office buildings, he said.

Swap energy bill costs for much-needed teachers – $50m on offer in savings

There is also a major economic windfall to be had. Auckland Council, for example, is already saving around $300,000 a year following a green re-fit of one of its buildings.

Mr Eagles said that using a conservative estimate of a 10 per cent improvement in the energy performance of government properties and tenancies would save NZ taxpayers $50m a year. A 20 per cent improvement would mean $100m a year in energy costs liberated for other purposes.

“Take that $50m saving – that would mean the government could employ around 900 more teachers a year. We currently have a shortage of around 3000 teachers in Auckland.”

There is also a health benefit to gain from improving property performance. A recent Harvard study found a more than 25 per cent improvement in cognitive function for those working in green offices, and productivity gains equating to thousands of dollars a year.

The independent 2015 review of the use of NABERS in existing buildings in Australia showed there had been a $168 million benefit in terms of productivity. There had also been an emissions saving of 2051 kilotonnes and energy savings of 10,020 terajoules.

Closing the non-renewable energy gap

Commercial offices account for around 20 per cent of the nation’s entire energy consumption. The proportion of the energy mix that is generated using non-renewable sources such as gas is around 15-20 per cent.

A 50 per cent improvement in the energy performance of the commercial office sector would reduce the need for that non-renewable supply by around 10 per cent – and therefore also reduce national carbon emissions.

“The easy, lazy thing we do here in New Zealand is we say, oh we’ll build more hydro and wind, but we don’t need the energy. We could just use less,” Mr Eagles said.

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