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New Zealand office buildings need to step up on energy and the climate emergency

New Zealand office buildings need to step up on energy and the climate emergency
Photo by Patrick Pellegrini on Unsplash

New Zealand is dragging the chain on sustainability for office buildings. But all that could be about to change if a new government mandate goes ahead.

New Zealand could be on the verge of a breakthrough on energy-efficiency in commercial office space, with word the national government is considering templating mandating NABERSNZ ratings for its tenancies.

Currently there are only 37 NABERSNZ energy ratings in about  30 buildings.

This is despite the toolkit’s introduction to NZ six years ago.

Andrew Eagles, chief executive of the NZ Green Building Council, told The Fifth Estate the low numbers are “woeful” and says lack of leadership from government and the absence of commercial buildings disclosure regulations are part of the reason there’s been such a lack of momentum.

The NZGBC has been pushing for CBD legislation, he says.

“We generally don’t get uptake of voluntary measures unless the government requires it [for themselves] and then mandates them.”

Recent statements in NZ Parliament by David Parker, minister for environment and associate minister for finance, indicate the government will require energy ratings for all its leased properties as part of a new, green procurement policy.

“We must take steps to improve energy efficiency and to include that as a key outcome for government office leases,” Parker said.

Eagles says that as the government occupies space in one in four NZ commercial buildings – about 15 per cent of the nation’s office space or 1.2 million square metres overall – this could be a major milestone for NABERSNZ.

It could well encourage the market to follow, as building owners are keen to have government departments and agencies as tenants.

The energy market needs to pay attention

There could also be major benefits for the nation’s energy planning. 

Currently, Transpower in NZ is talking up the need to increase the nation’s electricity generation capacity to meet rising demand from population growth and increased uptake of EVs.

According to Eagles, a better solution would be to improve energy-efficiency to reduce demand.

“Why look to double our generation when we are not using the energy we have effectively? We are [currently] just wasting good renewable energy and virtually sending it down the drain.”

Efficiency has worked for Australia, he says, with mandatory NABERS ratings and other policies generating massive savings in energy use and a corresponding saving on energy bills amounting to “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

In the longer-term, Eagles wants to see NABERSNZ extend into other sectors including hospitality, iconic buildings, industrial, retail and health.

“Health is one of our largest users of energy,” Eagles says.

But the first step is to get the commercial office sector up to speed.

Those who have gained a rating, such as insurer IAG, have found there are not just energy-saving benefits but improvements to productivity and occupant health.

Aussie companies in NZ seem to have different standards

Many trans-Tasman corporates who have rated offices in Australia are still, however, not getting their NZ digs rated. Eagles says there could be a reputational benefit in stepping up now.

“There is a clear opportunity to be leaders,” he says.

There is also an opportunity to assist with climate change mitigation. While around 70 per cent of NZs national electricity supply is renewable, there is still a significant share coming from oil, gas and coal.

Eagles says some of the work being done to improve the seismic resilience of buildings in cities including Wellington is actually missing an opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of buildings at the same time.

He explains there are around 70 buildings in Wellington currently needing strengthening – and they could install the measuring kits that would enable NABERS NZ ratings during those works.

“It would be a tiny fraction of the project cost.”

Time is of the essence, in reducing energy use and reducing emissions, with impacts including severe storms and rising oceans ahead. Eagles says NZ has $16 billion of assets considered at risk from rising sea levels, for a start.

“It is meant to be a climate emergency isn’t it, not a climate meander along.”

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