Design for Performance launches partnership with NABERS: Another step towards DfP becoming a reality in the UK market

Over the last 20 years Australia has achieved global leadership and an unprecedented improvement in the energy efficiency of its commercial office buildings. Verco is spearheading efforts to replicate that success in the UK. Another milestone towards making this a reality was reached on 19th June with the launch of an agreement between BBP and NABERS to work together to provide a customised version of the NABERS rating tool for the UK market. Verco has the Technical Lead role.

Since the PROBE project (1995-2002) and the publishing of the draft Energy Performance of Buildings Directive in 2001, we have been advocating to our clients and to policy makers the need to close the energy performance gap for buildings by assessing the energy performance of non-domestic buildings by measurement, rather than rely on design-based efficiency metrics like Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).

In 2012, Verco worked with the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) to create the Landlord Energy Rating for existing office buildings. In 2015, with BBP and other major players in the property and construction industries, our attention turned to developing a process to secure operational energy outcomes for new buildings aka Design for Performance (DfP). Partnering with Australian experts, we have since completed a desk-based feasibility study and pilot studies on real developments to demonstrate that not only is it possible to replicate Australia’s success in the UK, but that there is a pressing urgency to do so. In October 2018, the BBP launched the Pioneer phase of the DfP initiative and at the 19 June event hosted by Verco client Nuveen at their Bishopsgate head office, the BBP announced they have signed an MoU with NABERS to work together to nurture a ‘UK NABERS’ Scheme.

There are now nine major developers committed both to fund the development of the necessary infrastructure and to adopt a full ‘Design for Performance’ approach on at least one office in their development pipelines. Additionally, 11 major M&E design consultancies have committed to upskill their staff to be able to deliver DfP on behalf of developers.

Stepping back from our role as Technical Lead for DfP, our perception of what has happened in the Australian market can be summarised as follows:

a. Success has been founded on what we have christened “DfP Principles” and delineation of the energy efficiency challenge between landlord and tenants:

  • The landlord has full control over and takes responsibility for the base building (whole building HVAC plus the energy used in common parts)
  • Each tenant is responsible for the energy efficiency of the activities in their demise (lighting, IT and plug loads)

b. By delineating, measuring, rating and disclosing base building operational energy performance, it has become a KPI for all stakeholders

c. Decisions by occupiers, investors, developers, the supply chain and leasing agents in Australia are driven by the base building rating KPI, expressed as a NABERS star rating, which has become a term of common usage in the property market: everyone understands it, from the FD to the FM

d. This KPI is now strongly associated with a better building, creating a virtuous circle that has led to upskilling of the supply chain and transformed both new buildings and the existing stock

e. 85% of all offices (by floor area) are rated annually, underwritten by a mandatory disclosure law on sale/let introduced in 2010. The stock average base building energy rating has risen from 2.5 stars in 2002 to 4.6 stars in 2018, halving the average energy intensity of all rated office buildings.

In contrast, the UK expends a lot of effort to demonstrate a building is energy efficient in theory, but there are shortcomings in normal UK practice which prove disastrous when it comes to achieving performance outcomes, for example:

  1. Building simulation modelling at the design stage is too simplistic, ignoring the detail of HVAC systems and their controls.
  2. The compliance regime assumes all office buildings operate under the same standard conditions, which they don’t.
  3. Design and understanding have been deadened by this compliance regime which does not foster feedback from performance in use to design and improvement.
  4. The invisibility of operational performance to the market has led to the inability of developers, investors and occupiers to demand progress. Put simply, if you want to improve performance, measure performance.
  5. Because it is so inefficient, base building energy use in UK offices is typically two thirds of the whole building total. By contrast, in a NABERS 5 star building it would be more like one third.
  6. Because actual energy performance is unknown, some poor institutional arrangements have been allowed to go unchallenged: in multi-let prime offices, control and responsibility for whole building HVAC are often shared between landlord and tenants, creating an impassable barrier to efficient operation

Australia’s approach provides a ‘pattern book’ exemplar solution to the UK’s situation, although it will need customising to UK conditions. One very helpful aspect of the current UK context is the widespread interest in a pathway to ‘net zero carbon in operation’ new buildings by 2030, which is perfectly aligned with the Design for Performance approach. We would highlight the following four elements as the keys to success:

  1. DfP Principlesmust be followed throughout the design, construction and operation journey
  2. Transparency: delineation, measurement, rating and disclosure of the base building rating KPI
  3. Accountability: landlords must take back control and responsibility for base building performance
  4. Virtuous circle: recognition that “a better rating = a better building” provides a win-win for all stakeholders.

The commitment of developers, investors and designers is an essential starting point for DfP to become routine in the UK, but all other stakeholders have critical parts to play. DfP will be reaching out to contractors, control engineers, managing agents and FM providers to step up. With the whole supply chain on board, occupiers should start to preference space that has been delivered through DfP and the virtuous circle will be pump-primed to drive change.

If you are interested to find out more about Design for Performance please visit or contact Robert Cohen