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The next big thing for workplace: energy-in-use

Workplace By Michael Gosling, Partner, Building Services – 03 May 2024

Hand turning a dial around energy efficiency rating labels


Mike Gosling in a suit with office eating area background

Michael Gosling

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This article was written for and quoted in Property Week's May 2024 edition.

In the short time since it has been launched, NABERS UK has become a commonly used certification in the UK by developers who aspire to reduce their operational energy and achieve best-in-class, sustainable buildings or assets. There are several NABERS Design Rated buildings in the UK (and more to come in the year ahead) that are coming to the end of their first year of operation. So, the focus is due to shift to seeing how these buildings operate and how to ensure their energy-in-use figures match their design predictions and how feedback from the performance data can inform and improve the design of future schemes. But as a developer, why should you care about the operational energy of a completed building? Simply put, there are four reasons: it is likely to become law soon, investors will only invest in sustainable projects, your competitors are starting to do it and it is what future tenants and occupiers want.  

Historically as an industry, we have not been good at looking back at what we have been doing – we design, build and move on to the next. However, there are many additional elements that cannot be left out of the picture, one of which is how we use the buildings we have designed. One element of this is a need for increased engagement between landlords and tenants. This starts before the buildings are leased, ironing out things like how tenants intend to use the buildings and how their fit-outs will work with the building. And, of course, after the lease has been signed the engagement needs to continue. Having a feedback loop and regular discussions between landlords and tenants to see how the building is being used by the tenant and how the energy use is responding is an important element.

Hiring a facilities manager (FM) takes this burden off developers. This means the FM team needs to have a deep understanding of the optimal way to operate a building, so that it can perform to the standards it was designed to. Essentially, alongside the landlord, designer and tenant, the FM team needs to see the big picture. It has been commonplace in commercial office buildings that the FM role has not always managed performance well. This results in an unhappy developer whose building is underperforming in meeting its energy targets and an unhappy tenant who is not seeing the building’s operational performance (and energy costs) which they were promised. As the drive for sustainable workplaces is pushed by investors, tenants and occupiers, the expectation that they will deliver on their design intentions becomes even greater.

In addition to the education of all the stakeholders, getting good quality energy data from buildings is likely to be the biggest challenge in assessing operational energy performance. Meters can be unreliable and configuring these to provide the right levels of data granularity is key. For design consultants like us, we need to learn the lessons from such challenges and implement these into the next tranche of buildings we design.

We can learn a lot from how this was implemented in Australia. It has taken about 10 years of NABERS being applied to commercial property to achieve a typical 5* NABERS level of performance. Australian teams fundamentally do not design buildings differently to the UK, what they have done over the past decade is learn how to optimise operations by working closely with occupiers and FM teams.

If you are trying to learn more about your building's energy in use, get in touch.