Can the NABERS sustainability rating help buildings to go greener?

The NABERS standard recently arrived from Australia where it’s helped drive sustainability progress 

In order for NABERS to have an impact in the UK, it needs a significant amount of building owners to be on board, but it’s still very early days.

Gregg Taylor, Head of Sustainability for Managed Services, JLL UK

When it comes to truly sustainable buildings, initial design plays a significant part but it’s ongoing performance that matters – and a new rating system aims to reflect just that. Adapted from the National Australian Built Environment Rating System, NABERS UK’s key focus is improving energy performance in buildings. A ratings scale ranging from 1 star (“poor”) to 6 stars (“market leading”), which is valid for 12 months, enables building owners to measure and publicise the sustainability performance of their properties.

Launched in November 2020, NABERS joins a growing family of sustainability ratings systems for real estate including EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) and BREEAM. And yet it’s found its niche.

“What makes NABERS different is the way it focuses on actual environmental impact, not merely on what the designers had in mind,” explains Gregg Taylor, JLL UK’s director of sustainability for managed services.

“Design for Performance, the NABERS UK modelling methodology umbrella), the new ratings focuses on how an existing operational building actually performs in use. And because taking part in the scheme involves annual assessments, it can be used to illustrate a trajectory – so even older building can be shown to be making the journey towards net zero carbon as improvements are made to it.”

From Australia to the UK

The original NABERS system started in 1998 and became the de facto standard thanks in part to support by the industry’s biggest occupier of office space – the federal and state governments.

In New South Wales, for instance, government tenants must be housed in buildings with a minimum 4.5-star NABERS rating. Today, around 86 percent of Australian office buildings have a NABERS rating.

Following its success, the UK’s commercial property industry took note, with work funded by around a dozen big names including British Land, Lendlease and The Crown Estate. The resulting scheme is governed by Better Building Partnership (BBP) and Building Research Establishment (BRE) and has the support of industry bodies such as the British Council for Offices and the British Property Federation.

The UK launch comes amid a growing focus on reducing the impact of real estate on the environment, with net zero carbon goals looming in 2030 and beyond.

“NABERS UK has a great deal going for it,” says Taylor. “It’s transparent and it offers investors and occupiers confidence that their buildings are aligned with their own sustainability ambitions. It’s a benchmark that works across the industry which makes comparisons easy. And because the ratings are independently validated, they should enjoy a high degree of trust.”

And there could equally be financial benefits for buildings ranking highly. Last year, JLL research on the impact of sustainability on value found that sustainable buildings in central London were enjoying a rental premium of between 6 percent and 11 percent.

This is partly due to demand for sustainable office space outstripping supply – and as more buildings with strong green credentials come on to the market, the advantage will lessen. But an ongoing rating system, refreshed every 12 months, will give investors and occupiers an accurate idea of where their building currently sits on the sustainability scale and how it compares to competitors.

The future for NABERS UK

So far, the NABERS scheme has received a warm welcome in the UK. “Our clients are talking about NABERS UK a lot,” says Taylor. “The race is on to find a zero-carbon strategy that works throughout the property lifecycle from development to operation to refurbishment and that is focusing minds.”

Indeed, around 80 percent of buildings that will be around in 2050 already exist, with varying degrees of energy efficiency. And with a maximum of one-to-two refurbishment cycles left before the 2050 cut-off, measuring the ongoing performance, and seeing where improvements are being made year-on-year can inform future decisions.

Landlords are equally keeping a close eye on changing regulations; EPC requirements, for example, have been steadily tightened in the last decade, and projected to do so even more by 2030. In Australia, NABERS ratings are mandatory for buildings over 2,000 sq m so could we see a similar move in the UK?

“In order for NABERS to have an impact in the UK, it needs a significant amount of building owners to be on board, but it’s still very early days, says Taylor. “I think a lot of the industry will be more inclined to take NABERS UK as ‘carrot now’ than as ‘stick later’ if those are the options.”

This article is part of our Net Zero: The Big Questions series which looks at some the complex questions around how buildings can achieve net zero carbon. Check out the rest of the series below:

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