The NZ Green Building Council, a strong lobby group created by the construction and property industry, is hoping that by 2030 the New Zealand Building Code will be updated to ensure all new buildings are zero carbon.
"That's our target and it would mean we won't need Green Star rating because zero carbon buildings and homes will be normal business," says the council's chief executive, Andrew Eagles. "We can then switch our focus and concentrate on existing buildings and get a mandatory carbon disclosure programme established and operating."
The council describes zero carbon buildings as having low levels of heating and cooling demand and high-performance heating, hot water and lighting systems.
The not-for-profit council — it has 550 members representing a combined market turnover of $20 billion — was formed in 2006 out of industry concern that new and existing buildings were "unacceptably unhealthy and produced high carbon emissions".
As well as producing research, the council oversees the Homestar and Green Star design certifications for New Zealand homes and buildings, and NabersNZ — the energy rating system for confirming the performance of offices and other buildings already built.
Eagles says energy efficiency was not a prime motivator for developers, and New Zealand had fallen well behind other OECD countries on building performance standards.
The built environment is presently responsible for about 20 per cent of New Zealand's carbon emissions.
The council is collaborating with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and Eagles says "it looks like the government will change the Building Code in line with what we are suggesting."
"The first major change could occur in 2024 — that is improving the energy efficiency of the building by 20 to 30 per cent with better ventilation systems, more efficient heating and lighting systems, and better water provision," says Eagles.
"We have the technology and know-how to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. There will be a 30 per cent saving on energy bills and we will have healthier buildings. That will be awesome.
"It will free up electricity to be used for transport.
"We really need it because we are all going to be driving electric vehicles before long."
The council is proposing that the Building Code be updated in three stages including restricting fossil fuel combustion in new buildings by 2026 and eliminating its use by 2030.
Eagles says the Building Code, forever criticised and complained about, has not evolved fast enough and fails to provide New Zealanders with warm, dry and sustainable places to live and work.
The council's priority areas for change are:
• Better insulation requirements.
• Inclusion of air tightness and thermal bridging standards.
• Improved ventilation.
• Requirements to mitigate overheating.
• Efficiency standards for all energy uses.
• Energy performance modelling and reporting.
Eagles says the insulation levels currently required in New Zealand are weak when compared internationally.
London and Christchurch have similar heating degree days (a measure of the number and severity of cold days), but the required insulation levels and air tightness are at least double, and in the case of floor insulation five times higher, in the UK.
The majority of new homes here are built on concrete slabs and they don't need to be insulated to meet the Building Code — a requirement that's been in place in UK for more than a decade, he says.
The Building Code does nothing to mitigate gaps and cracks in a home (draughts) or take any consideration of thermal bridging (heat lost from window frames or lintels).
"In areas like the UK, pressure testing a home is mandatory to see how airtight a place is and there's a minimum standard they must reach. Air pressure testing should be better incentivised here."
Eagles says at present there's no simple way for consumers to transparently understand how energy efficient their new home is likely to be, or differentiate it from other homes available.
"Energy efficiency is hidden behind other issues such as ventilation, water provision, indoor air quality and healthy materials, and we want to see clear energy performance reporting embedded in the Building Code that ensures better standards and transparency.
"Many of the OECD countries have mandatory energy ratings (labels) which must be declared at point of sale."
The council adopted the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (Nabers), established in 1999 and widely recognised as a world-leading energy rating tool for commercial buildings.
As well as changing the Building Code, the council is pressing the government to make Nabers certificates mandatory for all office buildings more than 2000 square metres in size.
"The industry knows about it and has used the Nabers scheme for seven years, and hundreds of people are trained up on it. The time is right to regulate an energy disclosure programme," says Eagles.
"I'm confident the programme will be introduced by government in this term.
"It can be passed into law in 2022 with a two year lead-in. So energy efficient certificates for existing buildings will be required and displayed by 2024."
Since the Nabers scheme was introduced in Australia, $1 billion has been saved in energy bills and carbon emissions have been reduced by seven million tonnes, enough to power 93,430 homes for a year.
Now, 78 per cent of Australia's office space is rated with a Nabers certificate (after it became mandatory), and in five years the programme delivered $160 million productivity gains.
"People working in better air quality and a better environment are more upbeat and less prone to sickness," says Eagles.
The Nabers scheme measures the energy efficiency, water usage, waste management and indoor quality of a building and its impact on the environment. There are also energy/greenhouse and water rating tools for hotels, shopping centres and data centres.
Eagles says "people want to work in healthier, energy efficient buildings — young people are really engaged on this issue and asking more about the green credentials of employers.
Building owners want lower running costs and investors want to be sure about their green investment.
"The Green Star and Nabers schemes provide that certainty and the ticks," he says.
"If an owner has to put an energy efficiency label on the building, then I don't think they'd be happy with a one star out of six. People need to know whether a building has two or three times more energy use than another down the street."
Eagles says there is hardly any additional cost in constructing a green building — at most it is 2 per cent extra. "Mansons TCLM, for instance, saw no additional costs in a five-star green building; others see say 1 per cent.
"If you design well, you can have a smaller heating and ventilation system, and if you insulate better, you lose less heat. A green building delivers significant reduction in operating costs.
"Where it costs a lot is when a building is specced up and then they decide to go green — that can add 5-8 per cent to the building costs. When you do it right from the start, you don't see high costs," says Eagles.
Green Building projects
At present, there are more than 3000 green building projects in the country. These include 170 new Green Star rated buildings with 70 more going through assessment.
The projects also include NabersNZ energy-efficiency ratings and they comprise 2677 homes with 25,000 in the pipeline, and 399 commercial with 50 in the pipeline — ranging from office buildings, office fit-outs in existing buildings, schools, libraries, hospitals, churches, manufacturing and logistics facilities, and hotels.
Many of the projects, such as Turanga Central Library, The Bus Interchange, and the St Patrick's and St Mary's Catholic churches, are in Christchurch as the rebuild continues. Turanga is New Zealand's first green library with a 5 Star Design certification.
Forte Health in Christchurch became the country's first 4 Green Star hospital, designed with a natural light well through the three floors and a refrigerant flow air conditioning system for heating and cooling. Fresh air and exhaust is via ventilation heat-recovery units mounted in the ceiling space.
The Taranaki District Health Board is building a 5 Green Star addition to its base hospital campus in New Plymouth. The $300 million building, expected to be completed in 2023, will house the emergency department, intensive care unit, laboratory, radiology and maternity services.
The new East Wing building is estimated to produce 57 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than average healthcare facilities, and research shows patients in sunlit rooms of green hospitals have 40 per cent shorter stays than those in dull rooms.
The refurbished Wellington Aorangi House, which was evacuated in 2005 because of heating, cooling and ventilation issues, received a World Green Building Council award for its energy-efficient and sustainable design incorporating solar and natural ventilation.
The 1970s building in Molesworth St, home to engineering consultancy Beca, has 5 Green Star Office Design and NabersNZ ratings, demonstrating 64 per cent energy savings and 78 per cent waste diversion improvement when compared with an average New Zealand office building.
The Waikato Student Centre building is rated 5 Green Star and features low-energy lighting, shading and sun-control louvers to assist the mechanical system and energy-generating lifts. Water heating is supplemented by the rooftop solar array.
The Air New Zealand Logistics building at Auckland Airport uses natural light, ventilation and rainwater harvesting as part of its 5 Green Star Industrial Design rating. The Argosy-owned warehouse and office building in Silverdale tenanted by Mighty Ape has a 5 Green Star Industrial Built v3 rating — only the third time this has been handed out.
The 15,500 sq m Fonterra head office in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter gained its 5 Green Star rating for its indoor environment using all-electric heating to deliver low carbon emissions, energy efficient thermal envelope and building services design, and a water conservation system using rainwater harvesting.
Nearby in the sustainable Wynyard Quarter, the three level Mason Bros. building — a conversion from an old warehouse — became the first green building project to achieve the highest possible rating for environmental impact, a 6 Green Star and 5 NabersNZ certificate.
Show us your plan for cutting emissions
The NZ Green Building Council wrote to Climate Change Minister James Shaw in March, asking him to take urgent action on cutting carbon emissions from all buildings. Here's the thrust of the letter:
"The Greens' plan for sustainable buildings included a commitment to ensure new government buildings are built to high environmental standards. As government is the largest and most significant owner and occupier of buildings in Aotearoa, this commitment is key to cutting carbon pollution from all buildings.
"A commitment that government will only build to environmental standards, such as Green Star, will send a clear signal to all in the building and construction sector that our industry is going to play an important part in achieving a zero carbon Aotearoa. This is an urgent matter. New Zealand's built environment is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of the country's carbon emissions, and the climate change pollution from construction soared in the September quarter to record levels.
"We know that our sector is playing a key role in boosting the economy, but we also want our sector to play a similar role in a greener, healthier, zero carbon Aotearoa. Without a clear government commitment to only build green, we may not be able to do so.
"Green Star is how the sector certifies our buildings and we strongly suggest government do so too.
Given the agreement between the Greens and Labour on this issue, the election promises by both parties and the urgency of the issue, we hope to see in the very near future a public commitment that all new government buildings are built to be healthy, green, low carbon places."
Shaw responded by saying that the building and construction sector can, and should, play a key role in helping create a low-carbon future for New Zealand. The independent Climate Change Commission has identified some opportunities in this area, particularly around energy efficiency and construction materials.
Shaw urged the council to submit on the Government's Emissions Reduction Plan that will be published later this year, as it would play an important role in decarbonising buildings. It remains unclear whether or when the Government will mandate that all new public sector buildings meet a zero carbon standard, and the council is still pursuing the issue.