Australia: Sustainability – The Various Rating Systems

Last Updated: 5 September 2009
Article by Robin Lonergan

Many organisations are requiring energy efficient buildings and tenants and government departments are demanding energy efficient buildings. This demand has lead to tenants driving the market towards energy efficient buildings. One of the objective measures used in the property industry to determine the environmental impact of a development is the sustainability rating systems.

The firms within the Hunt & Hunt Legal Group are committed to sustainability and have implemented various protocols within the firms to benefit our business, our clients and the future.

A number of our construction clients have also accepted the challenge to create a sustainable business. One of our clients, St Hilliers Group recently published its Sustainability Report to review the impact of St Hilliers on the community and the vision of St Hilliers to be a leader in sustainable development in the Australian property and construction industry.

In developing a framework to pursue a sustainable working environment and business practice an appreciation of the various rating systems is often the starting point.


The NABERS Green Ratings (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) or NABERS provides for disclosure on the energy efficiency of a building both on how it is designed and its subsequent operation. NABERS is administered nationally by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. It rates existing commercial office buildings and hotels in respect of energy and water efficiency with a higher rating being awarded to a more efficient building.

Under the NABERS system, the building is rated after 12 months of operating using data on the actual amount of energy and water consumed during the year. As the rating reflects actual usage, it rewards both the efficient management of energy and water as well as efficient design of the building.

Green Star

The Green Building Council of Australia operates another system – the Green Star Rating Scheme. The Green Star Scheme evaluates the environmental design of buildings at a conceptual stage, during construction and 'as built' stages. It assesses a building's potential to reduce its environmental impact but not the building's operation.

Green Star measures environmental management, indoor environment quality, energy use, transport access, water use, use of materials, land use, ecology and emissions. The Green Star Ratings can be applied to the life cycle of a building (design, construction and use) and for different types of buildings. There are rating tools available for various types of buildings including commercial offices, retail centres and education facilities and there are pilot rating tools available for other buildings including health care, multi-unit residential and others.

As the Green Star Rating applies to different phases of a building's life, during the design phase, the rating can be granted once the design process is a minimum of 60% complete, if there is sufficient detail to allow the assessment to take place. The 'as built' rating would then be assessed when the building is completed, but it is not necessary for the building to be operational.

The Green Star Rating for residential accommodation had a pilot stage and the pilot rating tool for multi-unit residential has now been released as a Green Star Multi-Unit Residential Version 1 rating tool as from 2 July 2009. This tool enables building owners and developers to:

  • Minimise the environmental impact of the development.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Capitalise on the environmental benefits of the initiative.
  • Receive recognition for more environmentally sustainable design.
  • Deliver health benefits and financial savings for building occupants.

The Green Star – Health Care Version 1 tool was released on 16 June 2009, the Green Star – Retail Centre Version 1 tool was released on 1 July 2009, the Green Star – Education Version 1 was released on 6 July 2009 and the Green Star – Office Version 3 was issued on 24 June 2009.

Government Commitment

The Federal Government has published a strategy for "Energy Efficiency in Government Operations Policy 2006", which considers targets for the 2011- 2012 financial year. This policy refers to minimum energy performance standards for buildings and new premises over 2000 sq.m. if owned or leased by the Australian Government. The policy refers to a NABERS star rating.

The State Governments have also introduced various strategies. The Queensland Government introduced the Strategic Energy Efficiency Policy for government buildings in December 2007 requiring a 5% saving by 2010 and a 20% saving by 2015. The Queensland Department of Public Works published the Sustainable Office Rating Policy which identifies both the Green Star and NABERS systems as the preferred environmental rating systems for design and management in use of all office building portfolios. It sets out minimum target ratings for government office buildings, for new buildings (including fitout) of 5 star Green Star or 4.5 star NABERS and for leases, fitouts and refurbishments in excess of 2000 sq.m. of 4 star Green Star or 4.5 star NABERS.

In addition, the department seeks to achieve a minimum of 4 star NABERS water rating, 3 star NABERS waste rating and 5 star NABERS indoor environment rating within all government office buildings.


As with all representations, developers and owners need to be careful about the representations made about the energy rating of a particular building. Where a Green Star rating has been awarded for a particular phase of the life of the building, that rating should not be attributed to a different phase, ie if a 4 star rating is granted for design, that rating does not automatically apply to the ongoing use of the building and no representation should be made in that regard.

Green Star Ratings are dynamic and care needs to be made when representing exactly what tool has been used in achieving a particular rating.


The use of Green Star and NABERS rating systems are important tools for the sale and leasing of commercial, retail and residential buildings. In addition to the lower operation costs, tenants including government tenants are putting in place policies that require buildings to meet minimum energy efficiencies.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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