Although we are still grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, we have seen a seismic shift in attitudes to climate change across all sectors of society. One clear demonstration of this is that 35 institutional investors representing $5.6tr are aligning their portfolios through the Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5C. The climate is now a priority for post-pandemic recovery, and the real-estate sector is focusing on building back better.
The Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) Climate Change Commitment, meanwhile, has secured 26 signatories, covering more than £375bn of real-estate assets and around 11,000 properties. In line with that commitment, signatories have been publishing their net-zero carbon pathways, which set out how they will fulfil their climate change promises. But these high-level commitments must, of course, be matched with practical action that significantly reduces emissions.
The Design for Performance (DfP) initiative, discussed in my previous Built Environment Journal article, is the culmination of more than a decade of work. It aims to measure the performance of commercial property portfolios and determine exactly why many buildings do not perform as designed.
Underlying this is the UK's culture of designing for compliance with standards that are informed by notional building types, and rating schemes that assess design rather than operational performance. These arrangements do not acknowledge the significant effect that the process of developing and managing buildings can have on the way they perform.
However, this is not the case everywhere in the world. BBP has followed the progress of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) for some time, observing how over the past 20 years it has helped buildings there to achieve high standards of operational energy performance that are consistently improved over time.
Over a three-year period, DfP sought to understand how exactly this was achieved. A feasibility study and pilot projects identified the key factors for success, and examined whether the UK office market could emulate NABERS' achievement. These found not only that the scheme could work in the UK, but that it was desperately needed if the sector is to bridge the performance gap and consistently improve the energy efficiency of offices.
Through discussion with and support from the initiative's stakeholders – including major industry bodies, non-governmental organisations, consultants and contractors – we decided to develop a scheme for the UK market, and entered into a partnership with NABERS that enabled us to benefit from its 20 years of experience, expertise and tools.
A critical task for the project was to find an administrator for the scheme, and we were delighted that BRE stepped into NABERS' role for the UK. The DfP initiative has always been industry-led and industry-backed, involving a wide variety of stakeholders. BBP, BRE and NABERS will oversee the governance of NABERS UK and work with a range of industry stakeholders to receive feedback on its use and development.
It's important to reiterate that NABERS is based on outcomes, with a building's actual energy performance measured and verified.
NABERS UK has two market offerings. First, NABERS Energy for offices rates the in-use performance of existing office buildings on a six-star scale, from the lowest rating of poor through below average, average, good and excellent to market-leading.
Second, NABERS DfP allows new developments and refurbishments to target a specific rating at the design stage. This can then be used as a key performance indicator for procurement, from the design stage through to completion, as shown in Figure 1. A building then demonstrates whether the target has been achieved by getting a NABERS energy rating once occupied and in use.
"NABERS is based on outcomes, with a building's actual energy performance measured and verified"
Importantly, both NABERS UK and DfP rate the base building energy consumption, allowing owners to see the efficiency of services and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The rating is irrespective of the occupier activities, covering only what the owner controls: this is important because it not only enables fairer comparison with other offices, it also helps other stakeholders.
For instance, investors can understand how well owners are managing their portfolios; managing agents can demonstrate to clients how well a building is being run or what improvements have been made; and occupiers can assess a building's energy efficiency when looking to take new space.
A question we are often asked is why the UK needs another rating scheme. Our response is that NABERS UK has been launched at the behest of major real-estate investors in an already crowded market – suggesting that existing systems were not providing what the industry desired.
Yet alignment and complementarity are still key. Through extensive engagement with industry bodies, NABERS UK works alongside established standards and tools such as the British Council for Offices Guide to Specification, BREEAM New Construction, RIBA Plan of Work, Soft Landings, the UK Green Building Council's Net Zero Framework, the London Energy Transformation Initiative targets for offices and the Global ESG Benchmark for Real Assets.
NABERS DfP is already being implemented on 13 new office development projects, and 17 BBP Climate Change Commitment signatories have indicated that they will now routinely use the rating on new projects.
Of course, this will not be without its challenges: metering will be essential for buildings to be certified, while design and development teams, consultants, property managers, facilities managers, agents and assessors will all need upskilling. The extensive network of 25 DfP partners has already kick-started this process, but there is still some way to go.
The government could also play a critical role, and we are delighted that the DfP initiative and the work to develop a NABERS UK scheme has been widely referenced in the government's current consultation on mandatory in-use performance disclosure for commercial buildings. BBP has worked for many years to highlight this critical issue, and it is clear that NABERS UK is closely aligned with the government's proposed framework.
Related competencies include: Design and specification, Legal/regulatory compliance, Sustainability
Prof. Sara Wilkinson FRICS, Dr Gill Armstrong, Dr Kusal Nanayakkara, Mark Willers FRICS, Prof. Jua Cilliers and Dr Robert Fleck 08 December 2023