An easy upgrade

Why build when you can repair?

Jane Henley


Most major buildings under construction in New Zealand are now designed to address environmental issues. The New Zealand Green Building Council’s Green Star rating system for buildings is helping stimulate this change, and now around half of all new and major refurbished office spaces are going through Green Star certification.

However, these new buildings only represent four percent of the overall opportunity. Around 96 percent of New Zealand’s office buildings are ten years or older, and improving these existing buildings is the most effective way we can reduce the overall environmental impact of our building and property industry.

In most cases, upgrading existing buildings has a smaller environmental impact and is more economically viable than replacing them with new buildings. This is common sense as vast amounts of money and material are already invested in an existing building. The challenge that landlords with existing buildings are now facing is that tenants are seeking space with high levels of natural light and fresh air, good levels of thermal comfort and low levels of material based pollutants (for a start), as these spaces are more productive, help attract and keep staff and are simply better to be in.

There’s now a sharpened focus on ensuring that our buildings are performing as efficiently as possible as energy, water and waste operating costs are no longer acceptable business expenses. Sometimes an existing building just does not have the potential to improve. All buildings have a refurbishment cycle, at which point decisions are made about the extent of the upgrade of a building. All buildings can now use the expanded Green Star system to help make upgrade decisions so existing buildings can now be certified if they meet the benchmarks.

Green building ratings are becoming increasingly important as a trusted independent source of information and verification. The New Zealand Green Building Council has now expanded the Green Star rating system to certify all buildings—existing as well as new—during design and construction.

This provides tenants with a level playing field to compare new building and existing building design options before leases are re-signed or new premises investigated. It should also help building owners to benchmark their current assets and plan the upgrade of their existing building stock to one common benchmark.

The design and construction tools in the Green Star system do not give the tenant all the information they might like to make their decision. The next step is the development of a Green Star Performance tool. This will measure the actual, year-on-year performance of buildings. This new tool will complete the three-phase rating system being developed for the New Zealand market to address the important phases of the building’s life cycle—design, construction and operation (or performance).

We’re already seeing the impact a rating tool can have on the new building market through a common language for the industry and a transparent, credible benchmark with Green Star.

The extension of this to existing buildings is a natural and exciting step, one that is set to have a profound effect on the performance of buildings in future.