Over the last decade, we’ve been working hard to build better buildings at Britomart. Here, Andrew Eagles from the Green Building Council helps explain why it’s worth the effort.

Recent reports about climate change in the media haven’t made comforting reading. In fact, two recent major reports flat-out state that the world is already experiencing serious effects from climate change, and drastic change is needed if we’re to avoid even worse damage. And although individuals can make changes at a personal level to reduce emissions, corporate responsibility will play a significant part in reducing New Zealand’s carbon impact.

“As we get closer to a Zero Carbon policy in New Zealand, all the ways we create carbon and waste carbon will need to be captured,” says Andrew Eagles, CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council. Construction and reconstruction of buildings is a big contributor to carbon pollution, with a report out in May this year showing that buildings may create as much as 20 percent of New Zealand’s overall carbon emissions through their construction and ongoing use. As Andrew puts it: “It’s a really big deal.”

There are 19 buildings in the nine blocks that make up our Britomart precinct – nine have already been refurbished to efficient modern standards, five are new buildings and five are yet to be refurbished. We’re also building a sixth new building for The Hotel Britomart, due for completion in 2020. The operation of all these buildings is managed by the Britomart company.

Around 250 businesses have tenancies here (from Adidias to Zambesi, and nearly every letter in between!) with more than 5000 people working here every day. That’s a lot of people coming and going, spending a good chunk of their days in our buildings, using power and water, creating waste and responding physically to the light, air and noise inside.

Happy, healthy people perform better at work, take fewer sick days and stay in their jobs longer. As a property management company, we want people to enjoy working here (and visitors to the precinct to enjoy visiting here), so the businesses that operate here want to stay long-term. Makes sense, right?

Plus, well-constructed, sustainable buildings are obviously also far better for the environment. They create lower carbon emissions and less waste during their construction, and use less power and water, and output less waste on an ongoing basis.

The Australis-Nathan Building

That’s why since 2008 we’ve been working with the New Zealand Green Building Council to make sure we’re building and operating our buildings in the most progressive way possible. Don’t just take our word for that – Andrew Eagles, CEO of the NZGBC says, “What Britomart is doing is great for the environment but it’s also really insightful to be doing something that’s better for the people who work there. We’ve seen some real leadership from Britomart in this area.”

Our journey to make better buildings started with our nine refurbishments. In many cases, knocking down an old building and putting up a brand new one – even where the original buildings are in the kind of pigeon poo-filled state that most of Britomart’s buildings were when we started work on them – is less environmentally friendly than restoring them to a high standard of efficiency.

Andrew Eagles again: “Right now, when buildings get knocked down, the huge majority of their materials go to landfill and most of their embodied carbon is wasted. And while it’s really important that we look after our existing buildings from a greenhouse emissions point of view, it’s also really important from a heritage perspective. In Green Star, we reward that. People find restored heritage buildings beautiful visually, and they give a place a sense of history.”

We’ve had three of these refurbished buildings assessed through the NABERSNZ system (which stands for National Australian Built Environment Rating System, but the NZGBC has developed their own version), which measures the energy performance of buildings that have been operated for a year or more. The Australis-Nathan Building received a 4.5 stars ‘Excellent’ rating, while the Excelsior Stanbeth Building received a 5.5 stars ‘Market-leading’ rating.

We’ve also certified the new Charter (3 stars NABERSNZ rating) and East (4.5 stars NABERSNZ rating) buildings to an NZGBC 4 star and 5 star Green Star ratings respectively. Green Star ratings consider the overall environmental impact of new non-residential buildings, including embodied energy from construction, projected energy and water use, waste management systems, the ‘greenness’ of the materials used, public transport access and how it contributes to the local ecology.

When The Hotel Britomart building is completed, we’re aiming for it to have a 5 star Green Star rating too, making it the first 5 Green Star-rated hotel in the country. “It’s really exciting that Britomart is applying to Green Star certify the hotel,” says Andrew Eagles. “There’s a boom in hotel-building in New Zealand and in Auckland and Britomart is leading in Green Star assessment there.”

The Hotel Britomart

Most recently, we’re proud to be the first property company to adopt the NZGBC’s Green Star Performance tool, which helps property management companies like us measure a wide range of ongoing aspects of a building’s performance, including energy use, water, waste and indoor air quality. This is important, as while buildings are designed and built with performance goals in mind, there can be gaps between the expected performance standards and the real-life performance standards. You can only find and fix those gaps – and improve the performance of the building further – if you’re actively measuring its performance.

We’re only a few months into our Green Star Performance assessments, so we won’t have an official report for another few months yet, but in the interim, we’ve already found areas where we’ve been able to increase efficiencies and reduce waste, and we expect to improve even further over coming months.

So that’s where we’re at. Each year, we intend to issue a sustainability report to show how and where we’re improving (and where we can make further gains). Transforming building so that they work for a Net Zero Carbon economy is a slow process – Andrew Eagles points out that for many buildings, it will take more than 20 years of incremental improvements – so the sooner everyone gets started, the better. And in the meantime, every improvement makes things better for the people who work in our buildings, as well as the planet.

We’ll finish with one last thought from Andrew. “When we talk about low-carbon, people tend to think of the cost. People think of the environment as something that’s ‘out there’. It’s trees, and polar bears and monkeys. And if they think about it that way, when it comes down to it, they won’t give a shit.

“They’re thinking that they’ve got a lot on their plate. They’ve gotta drop off the kids and earn an income and worry about a pension and sign a deal. The trees are on their own. But when we talk about how it affects people every day, they can understand it and get interested in it. We won’t get to zero carbon unless we tap into that. Britomart has been willing to step up, commit to things properly, be third-party verified, and that’s going to have benefits for the people who work down there, and for the environment.”