Shane Belch leads the Facilities Management team at Britomart, who look after maintenance and upgrading of plant and equipment in buildings through the precinct, ensure buildings are compliant, respond to tenant queries and issues and oversee building security. 

MELINDA WILLIAMS This year you were tasked with assembling the data for the Britomart Toitū Carbonreduce submission. Could you walk us through what the process involves?

SHANE BELCH We’re mainly looking at the data that relates to the shared spaces in each building at Britomart, because individual tenants are responsible for their own power and water use. We do also cover the air-conditioning within the tenant spaces and the gas used in the boilers for heating, as that’s part of the air-conditioning system. That’s one of the bigger usages. We also cover the lighting in the Square.

First, we send out a request to the utility companies, asking for information about the units consumed in the reporting year for gas and electricity. They send us spreadsheets with the data. In addition, some electricity use is recorded by the Facilities Management team using information obtained from invoices as some data isn’t readily available from the supply company. Some data also comes from the check meters at the Buckland Masonic Building.

The accounts team provides fuel usage records for the company vehicles at the Britomart Carpark. The company travel we include is for staff working in the Cooper and Company office in the Maritime Building. We also report diesel used for the standby generators, which is recorded by the contractors. In addition, the contractors provide their records for the reporting year. The diesel there is generally used for testing or if there’s a power cut.

Data about refrigerant losses from the air conditioning system are sent to the Facilities Management team from the mechanical contractor who weighs and keeps a record of reclaimed gas. The difference between what is reclaimed and what the system will hold is recorded as a loss.

Finally, there is what’s known as Greenhouse Gas Liability, which are things like the diesel and refrigerants stored on site. If, for example, there was an earthquake or some other disaster and all of the diesel stored on site for the standby generators leaked out, that would be terrible for the environment. So we keep a record of that.

MW Did the assembling of the data lead to any surprising discoveries?

SB Yeah, the big one this time around was a significant increase in refrigerant leaks in the East Building, Excelsior Stanbeth, and Altrans Quay buildings caused by leaks in the air conditioning equipment. We also found out that the total amount of refrigerant the system holds was being recorded by the contractor, not the amount that was being lost to the atmosphere, which is what they should have been recording and reporting. Now that we know this, in the future, only the gas leaked into the atmosphere will be recorded. This means next year's emissions from this source should be a lot lower.

MW So that’s good news isn’t it, that you’re not losing as much as it seemed, because refrigerants can be quite intensive greenhouse gases. What tends to cause the leaks?

SB It can just be a loose nut on a piece of pipe, as simple as that. Our systems mean we notice leaks really quickly, but we want to avoid them as much as possible.

MW What are the biggest challenges in gathering the data needed to give an organisation like Toitū assurance?

SB Some of the utility retailers can be quite slow in providing information. There was also the challenge of just understanding where we could get all the information from in the first place. Now that we have an understanding of that, we’ve put together a document so that all the sources are listed there for next time. It’s also challenging to ensure all the recorded data for usage are correct by cross-checking invoices and spreadsheets. A lot of work has gone into setting up a system for reporting to make the process quicker in the following years. Jamie Urqhart-Hay and Sarah Hull on the sustainability team played a big part in this. 

MW When working with a precinct the size of Britomart, which involves well over 100 tenancies, how do you go about actively reducing resource usage?

SB The biggest challenge of reducing use is trying to keep the tenants comfortable. We could save a lot of electricity just by turning the air-conditioning off! But of course then they would get all toasty warm in summer and cold in the winter time. You can make little adjustments to the air-conditioning to reduce electricity but that can actually cause massive effects on the floor. So it’s just trying to manage those fine details and find a medium where everyone is happy. In some of the smaller buildings, the tenants do have control over the air-conditioning, but we keep it restricted to just a few degrees of difference.

MW Is that so individual people can’t pump the heating up to 26 degrees in winter? 

SB That’s right. But if there are complaints, we’ll look at it, put in a monitoring kit over the space of a week to see what’s going on, and it may be that there are some adjustments that are needed, so we’ll get contractors in to make those adjustments. Sometimes that will even help reduce the electricity that’s being used. 

MW How did the changes in workplace patterns during the Covid lockdowns affect the last year's data?

SB Fuels and air travel have decreased due to closed borders and fewer staff working in the car park due to Covid lockdowns, so now the borders are open, fuel and air travel will likely go up. But that’s not a big portion of our total emissions. Electricity and gas usage actually tended to stay about the same.

MW What, in your view, will likely be the biggest challenges and potential opportunities as Britomart works on its Toitū Carbonreduce status over the next few years? 

SB There may be an opportunity to install solar panels on some buildings and replace existing light fittings with LED lights. The big issue is finding a suitable alternative to natural gas. Natural gas is used to run the gas-fired boilers to heat our two most significant buildings, and the hot water supplies in the building. An investigation and trial study has begun looking at hydrogen becoming an alternative to natural gas or boilers that use the air temperature to heat – there are a lot of people looking into different things. By 2030 we may see a blended gas supply available with a change from natural gas to hydrogen by 2050. Hydrogen can be generated by large biomass projects, food waste, and wind or solar electricity.

NEXT / Rigorous data collection is just one of the behind-the-scenes activities that improves Britomart's sustainability. Read about how we've transitioned our finance to Green Loans this year, in an interview with chief financial officer Melanie Barber.