Heritage buildings can now shoot for six green stars

Legion House, a building in the Sydney CBD dating back to 1902, will become the first heritage building in Australia to achieve the new six-star environmental rating when its refurbishment is completed in 2013.

The building, which will be carbon-neutral when finished, will become the head office for construction and development company Grocon and is part of Grocon and GPT’s 161 Castlereagh Street development project.

Grocon CEO Daniel Grollo says the building will use “green” construction materials and methods, including sustainable bamboo, and will create its own renewable power through “biomass gasification technology”.

Grocon developed the Pixel building on the Carlton and United Brewery site, the first carbon-neutral building in Australia and rated Australia’s greenest building by the Green Building Council of Australia.

The NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) six-star rating, launched in August, is now the highest environmentally friendly rating an existing building can achieve.

Research by the investment property Databank has found buildings that achieve higher efficiency ratings deliver greater value and have a higher commercial value.

However, the launch of the new rating has attracted some controversy, with the Property Council of Australia slamming both the new rating and the way NABERS is managed.

It measures how efficiently a building uses energy, water, waste and the health of its indoor environment and is managed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

NABERS star ratings as applied to a typical office in Melbourne using only electricity and operating 50 hours a week:

 

Rating

Carbon emissions

5 stars

? 67 kgCO2/m2

5.5 stars

?50 kgCO2/m2

6 stars

? 33 kgCO2/m2

Source: NABERS

However, the launch of the new benchmark has attracted some controversy, with the Property Council of Australia alleging a lack of consultation and transparency at NABERS in what it calls a “decide first, consult later” management culture. 

The PCA says NABERS management has not consulted with industry stakeholders over the new rating and keeps its methodology in a “black box”. 

It claims the existing office tool methodology has been “trashed in favour of the totally different approach designed for hotels and shopping centres” and questions why it is two and half times harder for a Brisbane office building to move from five stars to six stars than a Sydney building. 

The PCA is calling for an overhaul of the existing NABERS management replaced by “a modern board, with an independent chair and world class corporate governance.” 

Matthew Clark, director of water and energy programs in the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage says the PCA response is disappointing and says a 12 week window for industry submissions on the new rating from November to February attracted 23 responses, 20 of which were supportive.

“We worked with our stakeholder advisory committee, which includes the PCA up until May this year. Based on advice from our national steering committee, we moved immediately to six stars.”

Clark says NABERS wishes to work closely with the PCA and is open to ongoing discussions with the industry body to make sure they feel involved.

The six-star rating is backed by the Green Building Council of Australia. 

“From now, six-star NABERS ratings will be possible, reflecting the fact that many buildings are moving above and beyond established benchmarks,” says GBCA executive director Andrew Aitken. 

Launching the new rating, Office of Environment and Heritage chief executive Lisa Corbyn said it was “called for by top performers in the commercial property industry who are already moving beyond NABERS five-star excellence towards a market-leading six star goal."

"It reflects an ongoing improvement in the environmental performance of Australian buildings over the past 10 years, underpinned by the robustness of the NABERS tool as a performance measure."

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer

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