sustainable office building

6 March 2018

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. What’s involved and what do you need to know?

The draft Sustainable Office Building Plan

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.