City of Melbourne plans to accelerate commercial building retrofits

by Sophie Berrill
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Retrofit Melbourne

The City of Melbourne plans to pick up the pace of retrofitting commercial buildings to help reach its target of net-zero emissions by 2040.

Commercial buildings are responsible for nearly 60 percent of emissions in the municipality, according to the City of Melbourne. To help meet its emissions reduction goals, the Council has set out a ‘Retrofit Melbourne Plan’ to enable all mid-tier commercial buildings to transition to ‘zero carbon ready’ stock by 2040.

With more than 1500 mid-tier commercial buildings in the local government area, over 80 buildings will need upgrades each year to reach this target. Currently, the Council averages just seven. 

“We are not daunted by the enormity of the task ahead,” say Lord Mayor Sally Capp AO and Councillor Elizabeth Mary Doidge in their joint foreword to the plan.

“Melbourne’s environmental credentials are strong, and we have garnered great support on the plan and its objectives in consultations with more than 200 stakeholders in the property and building sectors.”

City of Melbourne targets mid-tier buildings

The ‘Retrofit Melbourne Plan’ focuses on mid-tier buildings because they are the most common and share the most barriers to change.

These barriers include smaller footprints and higher vacancy rates than Premium or A-Grade assets. Built before 2000, mid-tier stock can also have older building services, including the original heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and fluorescent tube lighting. They can also lack NABERS ratings, dedicated property or facilities managers, and tenants with environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting requirements.

Many of these buildings were built at a time, and to codes, that paid little to no attention to environmental impact. The plan sets out 11 initiatives under the four streams of advocacy, information and support, enabling mechanisms and regulation to support all of these mid-tier buildings to become ‘zero carbon ready’ buildings.

What is a ‘zero carbon ready’ building?

According to the plan, a ‘zero carbon ready’ building has four characteristics: a high level of energy efficiency, no fossil fuels in its operation, a carbon reduction action plan to transition the building to whole-of-life zero carbon (including embodied carbon) after 2040, and regular progress reports from owners that embed learning.

 As part of the plan, the City of Melbourne will set a 5-Star NABERS whole-building energy rating as a minimum efficiency benchmark.

“Periodic reporting of a building’s NABERS rating will assist owners and tenants in the buildings, as often tenants actively seek a higher NABERS rating because it is aligned with their company values,” a representative from Property Council of Australia commented during stakeholder consultation. 

“This, in turn, will incentivise owners of those lower-class assets to upgrade them and support high transparency levels of the classes of building in the market.” 

According to the plan, retrofitting existing buildings is not just necessary for environment and emissions reduction targets, but unlocks the greater potential of Melbourne’s assets.

“It offers inspiring and updated facilities for our city’s employees, boosts property values for better tenant attraction and retention, and enables a range of co-benefits including healthier and more comfortable buildings, and precinct revitalisation,” the plan reads.

Read the ‘Retrofit Melbourne Plan’.

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