City of Sydney pushes for a net zero office sector

Image: Ethan Ou
Image: Ethan Ou

Exclusive: Increased building standards, mandatory disclosure of NABERS tenancy ratings and increased amounts of renewables are being pushed by the City of Sydney in a bid to get office buildings to net zero by 2050.

The just-released draft Sustainable Office Building Plan contains strategies to be implemented by a range of stakeholders – including building owners, developers, tenants, employees, building managers and government agencies – in order to meet the city’s goals of reducing carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030, and to become net zero by 2050.

The city has limited power to enforce building standards and practices, so is calling on business and other tiers of government to help turn the plan into reality.

“We’ve had great success engaging leading owners and tenants in the Better Building Partnership and CitySwitch programs,” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“Our challenge now is to work more closely with the less-engaged parts of the sector.

“We hope the actions in Sydney’s Sustainable Office Building Plan will increase the number of tenants demanding net zero office space powered by renewable energy.”

The plan names higher minimum standards for new builds and refurbishments as the biggest opportunity for carbon emission reduction and energy efficiency gains. While there is a planned upgrade in the National Construction Code for commercial building energy efficiency in 2019, the plan says Australia’s minimum construction standards are “far behind” international best practice, and further updates need to keep in line with global peers.

The city said it was looking at amendments to its Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan to “secure net zero development”. It said significant savings could be made by using 5.5 star NABERS Energy commitment agreements for new commercial office buildings and would “investigate the inclusion of planning control provisions that introduce NABERS Energy Commitment Agreements for new commercial office buildings or major refurbishments over 500 square metres or 1000 sq m”.

Another part of the plan recommends expanding mandatory building performance disclosure to tenancies.

“Mandating the regular disclosure of tenant ratings would trigger tenants to recognise their impact, and their contribution to whole-building energy performance,” the report says. “This may motivate businesses to improve performance, upgrade lighting and appliances, and collaborate on whole-of-building performance.”

Other recommendations include building owners using green leases and conducting NABERS Energy, Water and Waste ratings; tenants upgrading to energy efficient lighting and appliances; building managers developing business cases for major upgrades; developers designing and constructing new buildings to the highest level of sustainability performance available; the federal government introducing a carbon price; and the state government increasing its Government Resource Efficiency Policy (GREP) to specify a minimum 5.5-6 star NABERS Energy rating and ultimately net zero buildings.

“We need to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and our experience has shown it’s not just essential to work with the business community, but they share our sense of urgency in tackling this,” Ms Moore said.

The city’s commercial offices are responsible for 45 per cent of carbon emissions, 20 per cent of commercial waste and 27 per cent of water consumption. If the plan’s recommendations are taken up, it’s expected the sector could reduce carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2021/22 and 46 per cent by 2029/30.

However this is short of the 70 per cent reduction goals by 2030, meaning the gap needs to be filled by a large increase in renewable energy in the grid, and “potentially other energy efficiency measures not yet identified”.

The council said it was researching aggregated power purchase agreements, GreenPower and direct investment in projects to increase the supply of renewable energy to the city.

The action plan could also lead to a nine per cent reduction in potable water use, and an increase in diversion from landfill to 70 per cent by 2021/22 and 90 per cent by 2029/30.

Accommodation and entertainment sectors tackled

In a separate report, the council has turned its attention to the growing accommodation and entertainment sectors, which now account for 21 per cent of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions, 14 per cent of potable water consumption and 47 per cent of the city’s commercial waste, of which only 50 per cent is recycled.

The draft Making Sydney a Sustainable Destination plan is attempting to make Sydney a globally recognised sustainable destination for business and tourism.

Ms Moore said the success of the Better Buildings Partnership – the members of which have now cut carbon emissions in their buildings by 52 per cent on 2006 levels – had encouraged the council to expand strategies into the accommodation and entertainment sectors.

“Sydney is Australia’s largest accommodation market. Our city is home to 20,000 hotel rooms, 5000 serviced apartments, 6000 backpacker hostel beds and more than 6000 short term letting listings. This sector is undergoing rapid development, so we need to act fast to make an impact,” she said.

“If owners, operators and industry bodies take this action, by 2030 we can reduce emissions in the accommodation sector by 61 per cent, reduce potable water consumption by nine per cent and divert 90 per cent of waste from landfill.”

Recommendations include resource efficiency upgrades, better waste minimisation processes, higher energy performance standards for new buildings and major refurbishments, including 6 Star NABERS commitment agreements for new hotels.

The plan has been welcomed by peak body Tourism Accommodation Australia, and a City of Sydney spokesman said some of the top accommodation providers were already showing positive interest.

“We support the City of Sydney’s sustainability plan for the accommodation and entertainment sector, recognising that sustainability delivers real economic as well as environmental savings,” Tourism Accommodation Australia chief executive Carol Giuseppi said.

“We are committed to working with our members and the City of Sydney to assist in delivering on the actions in the plan.”


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