Just how green is my building?
In the commercial property sector, which is increasingly influenced by environmental concerns, owners, investors, tenants and developers rely heavily on benchmarks and targets to measure a building’s sustainability performance.
This information informs key decisions on value and leasing and is therefore increasingly important to the marketing, operation and transaction of buildings globally. However, the measurement and benchmarking of waste management practices in commercial buildings is relatively recent.
Since the introduction of the world’s first green rating system in the UK in 1990, there has been a proliferation of rating systems and other green building initiatives around the world and they continue to evolve. Some of these initiatives have been driven at the national level by government legislation aimed at meeting climate change objectives, with the result that nationally-mandated schemes focus primarily on energy efficiency.
For instance, the Commonwealth’s Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure Scheme, which was established in 2010 and applies to almost 900 buildings across Australia, requires owners to obtain a NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) energy efficiency star rating and include that rating on any advertisement for the sale or lease of a commercial building with a net lettable area of 2000 cubic metres or more. By comparison, voluntary initiatives have had a broader, more holistic, focus on other aspects of building operations, including water and more recently, waste.
Waste management in buildings
Waste management is an important issue for buildings, with 52 percent of all waste in the City of Sydney coming from commercial and industrial buildings. The NSW EPA has indicated that although resource recovery systems in commercial buildings have the potential to divert significant amounts of waste from landfill, current recovery rates remain low.
Monitoring, reporting and benchmarking tools for waste management in the property sector, therefore, have a huge potential to encourage better waste management practices and increase resource recovery rates throughout the sector.
“While the NABERS energy-rating tool has been widely adopted with over 72 percent market penetration, there was limited uptake of NABERS waste ratings.
As Patrick Arnold and Scott Ebsary of Foresight Environmental reported in Issue one of CWS, there are still considerable difficulties involved in reporting on waste and recycling rates for buildings because properties may report waste generation and recycling rate figures using a number of different methodologies. In addition, waste rating tools like NABERS have, to date, experienced low uptake across the sector.
NABERS waste tool – will it be revamped?
The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is the most widely used scheme for benchmarking and rating the environmental performance of Australian buildings. Developed in 2005, it is managed nationally by the NSW Government on behalf of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
Initially NABERS focused on water and energy efficiency ratings, but in 2008, the NSW Government launched a waste assessment tool for commercial office buildings. Like other NABERS benchmarks, this tool is a one-to-five star scale based on the range of market performance with 2.5 stars representing market average performance.
The waste tool was developed in consultation with industry stakeholders and the rating benchmarks were set based on an extensive study covering waste management systems in office buildings throughout Australia. The assessment is based on total waste mass generated, and the amount of that waste that is recycled. An on-site audit is conducted by an accredited assessor whereby waste is weighed over 10 consecutive working days, with the amount of contamination in the recycling also assessed to determine the building’s recycling rate.
While the NABERS energy rating tool has been widely adopted with over 72 percent market penetration, there was limited uptake of NABERS waste ratings and in 2014 the NSW Government, with the assistance of the Victorian Government launched a comprehensive review of this tool. In-depth industry consultations and pilot projects continued throughout 2015 and it is expected that a revamped waste tool will be released in the near future.
During this process, critics have called for greater robustness and transparency in the development and setting of benchmarks from the widest sample of buildings as possible. The Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) Operational Waste Guidelines may help to fill this gap.
The guidelines were published in July 2015 and provide a voluntary guidebook on best practice waste management for properties. It is expected that use of the guidelines will promote comparable data and transparent reporting processes, which will drive better standards and benchmarking for operational waste. The guidelines simply seek to provide a common set of measures, a transparent method of comparing performance and a mechanism for buildings to iteratively improve performance over time.
Within the guidelines, the waste data integrity rating protocol essentially grades the quality of the data received and collected by a building. It levels the playing field and creates a structure of reporting data where comparisons between different buildings can be meaningful.
“Monitoring, reporting and benchmarking tools for waste management in the property sector, therefore, have a huge potential to encourage better waste management practices and increase resource recovery rates throughout the sector.
For instance, the guideline suggests that commercial waste collection contracts should be charged based on the weight of material collected, as weight is a more accurate measurement of waste, especially for general waste. However, where weights cannot be obtained, building owners or managers may establish site-specific densities. Where site-specific densities are not available, the guidelines provide industry conversion factors. Where a building’s waste and recycling streams are weighed at the time of collection and where contamination in streams is accounted for, the higher the degree of data integrity.
Will we see legislation on disclosure requirements?
In the distant future, we may see the passage of legislation at the federal or state level imposing building waste disclosure requirements. Given the present reliance on the NABERS energy rating tool for the Commonwealth’s Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure Scheme, it is foreseeable that any waste disclosure requirements would similarly be based on the NABERS energy tool.
However, before we get to that point, consistent, industry-wide reporting and measurement is needed and the BBP guidelines are a huge step in the right direction. Not only will they enable building owners and managers to evaluate the success of waste and recycling programs and better understand their own expenditure on waste management, but they may also help to develop robust industry-wide data on which future benchmarking and disclosure requirements may be based.
In other words, watch this space.
The authors of this article are Jennifer Hughes and Kylie Wilson. Hughes is a partner specialising in environment and planning law, and Wilson an associate at Baker & McKenzie. This article also appears in Issue 2 of Corporate Waste Solutions.