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NABERS’ new tool is looking at you tenants

Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash
Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

NABERS ratings have been phenomenally successful for offices: they’ve penetrated 80 per cent of the office space market and saved a mountain in energy costs for landlords. Now there’s a new tool that could do the same for tenants.

In just a few months since its launch, the new NABERS Co-Assess tool is tackling the tenancy side of the equation, estimated to consume about half the total energy used in a building. Several high-profile building owners and managers have already taken up the opportunity to obtain an energy rating for their offices. 

The new tool has been flagged as a bright solution to an age-old conundrum: how to address the energy footprint created by tenants, which is about half of the total building consumption.

While building owners have been diligently cutting back their energy consumption and streamlining their energy efficiency, the same cannot always be said for tenants. Many have enjoyed the high environmental ratings of their landlords for the base building, but done little about their own tenancy. 

The Co-Assess process couldn’t be easier, according to NABERS Co-assess project lead Adele Bouquerel: an online application form enables tenants to obtain an assessment of their tenancy at the same time that the owner takes out an assessment for the base building.

Early adopters of the new NABERS Co-Assess included AMP Capital, for one of its commercial office assets in New South Wales and Lendlease, which obtained a rating for an undisclosed office building in Queensland, and 

AMP achieved ratings of 4.5 Stars for Base Building Energy, 3 Stars for water and five stars for one Tenancy Energy rating. 

Lendlease obtained ratings of 5 Star for the base building energy, 4.5 stars for water, an undisclosed whole building rating and undisclosed ratings for six tenancies in the building.

Ms Bouquerel said Co-Assess was been designed by the Office of Environment and Heritage, which administers NABERS, to address the two major barriers for office tenants to obtain a rating – the cost and the technical complexity of the rating.

The tool also aims to ramp up the collective impact of the NABERS toolkit.

“NABERS has been successful at capturing the energy used by the common services of around 80 per cent of Australia’s office space through Base Building ratings,” Ms Bouquerel said.

This has helped the property sector save an estimated $400 million in energy bills since 2010.

However, only around one per cent of the nation’s office tenancies have used NABERS Tenancy ratings to assess their energy use.

“When we know that the energy used by tenancies generally account for 50 per cent of a building’s total energy use, it becomes clear that encouraging the uptake of tenancy ratings can assist the commercial office sector with finding more opportunities for improving efficiency, savings on electricity bills and reducing environmental impact.” 

The uptake of the tool will help both tenants and building managers understand how tenancies are performing. The information can also be used to implement upgrades or strategies to save energy and cut the associated bills.

Because it’s now easier and more cost effective to have tenancy rated alongside the base building, owners might be willing to organise more tenancy ratings alongside base building ratings, Ms Bouquerel said.

There’s a collaborative element too. 

“Co-Assess has been designed to help tenants and building managers or owners collaborate in order to achieve net-zero buildings,” Ms Bouquerel said. 

Colliers case study in Perth

Colliers in Perth recently completed the NABERS Co-Assess rating process for 172 St Georges Terrace, a B Grade building owned by Eastern Lighterage Pty Ltd.

Colliers sustainability manager occupier services Patrick Jeannerat told The Fifth Estate that the building represents a common Perth typology – older, purchased by the owners at a low rate and then held for a considerable period.

He says the Co-Assess process was both simple and low-cost for all parties, with the landlord, building managers, tenants and facilities manager all engaged in achieving the assessment and rating.

There were 10 tenants in the building, with tenancies ranging in size from very small one or two person tenancies of 56 square metres through to larger whole floor tenancies of more than 400 sq m.

The building also has a high turnover of tenants, something he says had contributed to the building’s overall poor performance. Constantly changing fitouts saw walls regularly moved, and the HVAC systems pumps and fans were also extremely inefficient.

“It is a symptom of an ageing building,” Jeannerat says.

“It had become more and more complicated in terms of things like the airconditioning reticulation, there was a lot of wastage.”

Before the upgrades carried out concurrently with the Co-Assess rating, it was essentially a zero Star NABERS base building. 

As well as the base building energy challenges, 50 per cent of the building’s energy use was being consumed by tenants, whose own performance varied from zero Stars to 5.5 Stars, he says. Practices such as leaving lights and computers on, for example, increase a tenant energy footprint.

The Co-Assess process captures this type of variation.

One of the features of most buildings in Perth including this one that makes Co-Assess fairly simple is submetering as standard. The submetering captures individual tenant energy use, and is used as part of the data basis for a rating.

“There is little in the way of additional cost and paperwork [compared to a Base Building rating],” he says.

In his view, it represents best practice in measuring and therefore potentially managing building performance.

A Co-Assess process means the base building isn’t being improved at the expense of tenant ratings, and unlike the Whole Building NABERS rating it provides full transparency about each individual tenancy’s performance.

“It is the next step in how to measure performance and hold each party accountable.”

The motivation for tenants at St George’s Terrace to participate included getting “the kudos” for good energy efficient practices and getting tools to be able to improve what is under their own control, as the base building performance is not something tenants can influence or change.

More broadly, Jeannerat is also hopeful Co-Assess can be a means of stimulating the level of engagement in Cityswitch by Perth’s commercial building owners and tenants.

“There are a lot of synergies,” he says.

The goal is to “get everyone on the journey to learn about health and wellbeing and resource efficiency.”

To this end, he would like to see a Co-Assess version of the IEQ rating tool developed, as he says the wellbeing aspects of IEQ are in some ways easier for building occupants to appreciate.

Jeannerat says that in Perth’s CBD, seven buildings already have a NABERS IE rating for the base build.

“This follows an Australian-wide upwards trend with leading real estate investment trusts taking on a portfolio approach to securing independent certified health-ratings for buildings.”

Colliers head office in Co-Assess

Elsewhere, Colliers International (WA) has also just expanded the typical base building scope and added a 4 Star NABERS IE rating for its Perth headquarter office tenancy at 197 St Georges Terrace, owned by GDI Property Group and managed by Colliers International (WA).

This is in addition to the 5 Star NABERS IEQ, 5 Star NABERS Energy and 4.5 Star NABERS Water certificates already awarded to the base building. 

“Extending the focus from purely energy to health and wellbeing is a great instrument to engage with people” Jeannerat says. 

“The value proposition in terms of organisational bottom line outcomes through productivity can be orders of magnitude higher than energy”.

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