Creating the energy-efficient building of the future

By Amy Hamilton Chadwick |

Office buildings of the future will be smarter, more connected and more sustainable than the buildings of the past – and they’ll cost less to run.

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Building are responsible for 40% of global energy consumption and 33% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Economic Forum, so it’s understandable that decarbonising buildings will be a cornerstone of a greener economy.

The most advanced buildings now use AI and connected systems to manage energy use - they produce and recycle their own energy, using vegetation, solar panels and batteries to increase efficiency. One skyscraper in Hong Kong, for instance, is saving HK$3 million (around NZ$500,000) each year on its electricity bills.

Government, investors and tenants are demanding more

Buildings in New Zealand are also in the process of changing, and that process is gathering momentum as prospective commercial tenants begin to ask more questions.

“A big driver is government procurement starting to require low-carbon buildings to own or lease,” says Andrew Eagles, CE of the NZ Green Building Council (NZGBC). “We’re also seeing investors and the public wanting low carbon buildings, either when they build, or in the way existing buildings are managed. I’ve seen some local research by BECA showing that if 1200 of New Zealand’s larger office buildings all moved to zero carbon, that would save the same amount of energy generated by all our wind turbines annually.”


Andrew Eagles

New Zealand buildings can use a system called NABERSNZ to rate their energy efficiency, and Eagles says it typically delivers a permanent energy use reduction of around 40%. With commercial buildings using 21% of our electricity and costing $800 million to power each year, this could make a significant difference to our net carbon position.

“If you’re a tenant who’s looking for a new building, ask, ‘What is the NABERSNZ score?’,” Eagles suggests. “If you have the choice between two buildings and one has a zero or one star, versus one with five stars, you know the higher-rated building will be a better choice.”

 

The ongoing benefits to your business

A decarbonised office building will have much lower power bills, but the benefits go deeper than that. Energy efficient buildings are healthier buildings, which flows into better health for the people working in them. This isn’t only a result of better ongoing management, but also in the way it’s constructed and furnished, using natural carpets and lower VOC paints, for example, or having plants inside the building.

“We have some really good evidence that healthier buildings have higher air quality, and workers have better wellbeing and fewer sick days,” says Eagles. “For landlords, that means the building is not only easier to tenant, but tenants stay longer, too. I’ve also heard clients mention that when they go out to raise capital for improvements, greener buildings get a discount in the bond market.”


Green Sustainable Building
 

Quick wins for any building

There are a few quick ways you can improve energy usage immediately on any building:

  • Ensure everything is turned off at night
  • Replace old incandescent lights with LEDs
  • Ensure heating and ventilation systems are well maintained and running as efficiently as possible

“You might be surprised,” Eagles adds. “That stuff alone is worth over one star in the Green Star system. Behaviour is important, so look at the behaviour in the office and see what improvements you can make.”

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