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Why refurbish commercial buildings?

Building owners and managers and their commercial tenants are increasingly recognising that adopting energy efficiency, renewable energy and other sustainable practises in commercial buildings makes good business sense.

The benefits of “decarbonizing” commercial buildings include lower energy bills, and greater staff productivity and happier customers thanks to healthier indoor environments. Reducing a building’s carbon footprint can also help building owners and managers comply with government regulation, and create a corporate identity that embraces sustainability, a concept that is increasingly popular with staff and customers.

In Australia, the commercial building sector is expected to account for 10% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. For that reason, the Australian Government’s energy efficiency program includes measures designed to make it easier for building owners and tenants to make informed choices about their energy use and invest in better buildings and equipment.

Challenges and opportunities

Those who embark on a low carbon refurbishment (LCR) of a commercial building face challenges and opportunities, and will need the support and cooperation of property owners, managers and
tenants. But LCR also represents new business for everyone from surveyors and energy consultants to architects, engineers, and suppliers.

Ensuring refurbished buildings meet standards for environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality will require the involvement of inspectors, trainers, accreditation bodies and regulators.

Dollars and sense

The tools, technologies and policies needed to make commercial buildings more sustainable are already in place but if LCR is to be widely adopted the commercial property market must be convinced it adds value to existing buildings.

If commercial property owners believe LCR is an investment that will yield higher returns down the track they will be more likely to embed the concept into every part of their business, and seek out information about decarbonisation technologies and strategies.

It can be difficult to predict and verify exactly what LCR will do for your bottom line. A building’s performance must be assessed before any changes are made and that can take time and money. Building managers must also understand the implications of any retrofit for their tenants.

A study of the emissions reduction opportunities in commercial buildings carried out on behalf of the Australian Carbon Trust in 2010, for example, showed that a lack of information was impeding emissions reductions across the sector.

However, other studies show that if commercial property owners can be convinced it is in their long-term interests, they will find the capital to fund LCR works.

To produce a solid business case, refurbishment measures must be priced accurately, and the impact of any retrofit on operating and maintenance costs fully understood. It must also be clear how a retrofit helps an organisation achieve its corporate goals and meet tenants’ expectations.

Environmental rating systems such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are vital for organisations that want to demonstrate the value of an LCR to themselves and the market.

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