Responsible for around quarter of carbon emissions in the UK, the built environment will play a crucial role in the nation's race to net zero. As COP26's 'Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day' brought green development into global conversations, and with increasing government and public attention in this area, national discussions around improving the energy efficiency and sustainability of our buildings is becoming more prominent. As a result, many in the industry stand to benefit from the initiatives that support them in this space, including NABERS Energy for Offices.
NABERS, the National Australian Built Environment Rating System that initially came to the UK in November 2020, is a world-leading energy rating scheme that helps building owners, operators and managers better achieve their net-zero targets. The work required to launch in the UK was pioneered by the Better Buildings Partnership via its Design for Performance initiative in collaboration with NABERS and BRE.
In September 2021, NABERS UK's Energy for Offices scheme became available to those looking to assess and improve the energy efficiency of the office buildings in their portfolio. By demonstrating the operational performance and sustainability achievements of the office buildings they own or manage, asset owners, operators and managers will now be able to drive financial growth and solid returns.
Historically, attempts to improve the energy performance of property portfolios have been hampered by several issues, including access to and the reporting of data. Data on the actual operational performance of buildings was not easily obtainable, making it difficult to accurately and adequately drive improvement. For example, the industry's longstanding use of EPCs as indicators of operational energy is inadequate to meet energy efficiency targets in the UK due to the weak relationship between how efficiently a building uses energy and its EPC Rating. This effectively leaves operational performance invisible to the market – particularly investors and occupiers.
The UK's design-for-compliance culture has caused a gap between the design and in-use energy performance of buildings. However, there is an increasing acknowledgement of the limitations of this criteria in assessing environmental impacts for investment and policy decisions, and more weight is being placed on how buildings perform in use.
This has led to market demand for a design-for-performance approach to help the UK deliver better office buildings. NABERS UK has responded by introducing its Design for Performance process that encourages developers and building owners of new office developments or major refurbishments to commit to designing, building and commissioning to achieve a specific NABERS Energy for Offices Rating. The product was launched in April, and the first developers received their Design Review Target Rating in December.
Australia – where NABERS originated – has been able to deliver better offices that are more operationally efficient and sustainable. The Australian scheme now covers 86% of the office market and over 230 office developments have set a target of 4.5 stars or higher to date – with this number only set to increase. In 2021, Carbon Neutral ratings grew by 68% after more than doubling last year.
The NABERS Energy for Offices scheme rates the performance of the 'base' building, including central services such as heating and cooling systems, and lifts and lobby lighting. This enables building owners to clearly delineate the energy consumption under their control and provides annual reports of operational metered data to demonstrate increasing efficiency over time – setting it apart from other energy schemes. NABERS UK is also planning to expand the scope to whole building and tenancy ratings in the new year. This allows office buildings to be rated and compared based on landlord services, providing occupiers, investors and other stakeholders with a clear indicator of their energy efficiency.
When owners have a cost-effective, trustworthy and independent validation of energy data, they can use it to compare their buildings with others in their portfolio and with peers across the UK. Additionally, by using benchmarks represented by a six-star scale, the scheme also provides a framework for target setting and reporting. One Australian study showed that businesses that strive for a 4 to 6 star rating achieve longer leases, lower vacancies and a higher valuation, compared to those with a 0-3.5 star rating (Real Investment Analytics, Australian Green Office Property indicators 2020 Q2 [unpublished]. Figures represent the 5-year average).
The NABERS UK scheme gives building owners the opportunity to communicate their lower environmental impact and running costs simply and with confidence, giving them a competitive advantage with prospective investors and occupiers.
When it comes to cost savings, the benefits are clear. NABERS estimates that an average of £200,000 is saved per annum when an office building improves its NABERS UK energy rating from 4 to 6 stars.
Ultimately, as has been seen in Australia, the UK will play a crucial role in helping building owners, managers and operators improve the energy efficiency of the offices in their portfolios – and, more widely, helping the UK reach its target of net zero by 2050. Over the last 20 years, NABERS has proved that what gets measured, gets managed, with Australian customers saving an average of 30-40% on their energy costs over the course of 10 years.
A NABERS rating is trusted by national and international reporting and sustainable finance schemes. It not only helps save on energy and water bills, but also reduces environmental impact, improves water efficiency, and increases the value of UK office buildings, providing benefits for users, customers and investors, as well as the planet.