The Rising Oceans’ Eleven: Councils all talk no action on their own climate emissions

11 March 2020

*Below is the original release. Since being made public several councils have contacted NZGBC and admitted they provided incorrect data under LGOIMA. See footnote for details

New Zealand’s worst performing councils on energy efficiency have been revealed in the first ever assessment of their public buildings.

The list of councils, published by the New Zealand Green Building Council, include one that has declared a climate emergency.

Building information and energy data obtained by NZGBC under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) was used to rate about 70 Councils and the 220,000m2 of public office space they occupy.

Despite widespread commitments among local councils to reduce carbon emissions, some councils continue to burn coal, over 90% haven’t benchmarked their energy use, and almost a quarter are performing poorly.

The Rising Oceans’ Eleven

0 to 2 Stars

  • Central Otago District Council
  • Buller District Council
  • Dunedin City Council
  • South Taranaki District Council*
  • Gore District Council
  • South Waikato District Council*
  • Hauraki District Council

Less than 3.5 Stars

  • Invercargill City Council
  • Manawatu District Council
  • Tauranga City Council
  • Westland District Council

56 other councils were estimated to rate between 3.5 to 6 Stars, showing good to aspirational performance.

Surprisingly, in 2020 Central Otago District Council and Buller District Council are still burning coal. All councils on the list, except for Manawatu District Council and Westland District Council, signed the 2017 Local Government Climate Leaders Declaration.

Although it has declared a climate emergency Dunedin City Council is among the 12 worst performing councils.

Fellow climate emergency declarer Christchurch City Council* has been left off the list due to uncertainty around its use of diesel. Over the year the Council used 206,000 litres of diesel fuel. If that fuel was combusted within their building’s generators the Council would almost certainly be among the dirty dozen.

Currently their Green Star rated Civic Office building is estimated to rate between 4.5-5 stars, however with the diesel use that drops to a score of 2-3 stars.

Of New Zealand’s 78 council organisations, only a handful have ever used the Government-backed energy performance scheme NABERSNZ to formally benchmark their buildings.

“The built environment is responsible for over 20% of our country’s emissions and yet our own councils and their ratepayers are in the dark regarding the performance of their buildings,” NZGBC chief executive Andrew Eagles says.

“This is a shocking waste of energy and ratepayers’ hard-earned money. We’ve been forced to expose these councils because transparency about how our public buildings perform is non-existent.

“We know benchmarking and being transparent is key to improving energy efficiency, reducing the environmental impact of our buildings, and improving the health of New Zealanders. If we don’t measure it, we won’t improve it,” he says.

NZGBC originally compiled a Dirty Dozen which included Hamilton City Council. However, Hamilton admitted it had failed to provide accurate data under LGOIMA and subsequent review increased their rating.

“This is exactly why transparent, accurate reporting is essential. We are required to measure and report our emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. If we can’t get basic mandatory reporting, we’ll never meet our obligations.”

The impact of NABERS in Australia

In Australia large buildings are required to rate and disclose their NABERS performance. Over the last two decades NABERS has led to AUS$800 million in energy savings for businesses and Government, saved enough energy to power 400,000 homes and reduced CO2 emissions by 6 million tonnes.

The New Zealand Government adapted NABERS for the New Zealand market and introduced the NABERSNZ tool seven years ago. It is yet to follow Australia’s lead but has signalled it will target 4 Star ratings for its buildings and leases.

The few New Zealand councils that do offer full transparency by regularly reporting their office energy performance are able to successfully make improvements as a result. Environment Canterbury Regional Council, New Plymouth District Council and Kapiti Coast District Council are all using NABERSNZ to report their performance and are in a better position to manage their facilities. It has been seven years since Auckland Council rated the first office building in the country and they’ve gone on to rate five more.

Councils that have declared a climate emergency or signed the Local Government Climate Leaders Declaration can take immediate action by benchmarking and publicly disclosing the performance of their own buildings. Only then can they genuinely advocate actions to mitigate climate change and lead the sector towards zero emissions.

“As key representatives acting for the success of our people, Councils need to step up and do better, fast. This is not complicated. We know what can be done, we know who should be doing it, let’s get on with it,” Mr Eagles says.

NZGBC is looking to conduct a similar survey of Central Government tenancies later this year.

Notes for editors

The New Zealand Green Building Council is a not-for-profit industry organisation advocating for better buildings. It has the backing of approximately 500 members across the construction and property sectors.

NABERSNZ measures the energy efficiency of office buildings. Buildings are rated from 0-6 stars. It was developed in Australia, adapted for New Zealand and introduced here by the New Zealand Government in 2013.

Data was released to NZGBC under LGOIMA including building information and 12 months of energy use data for the main office building of regional, city and district councils.

The data was collated and the NABERSNZ online self-check was used to provide an approximate performance rating. These ratings are based on the data provided by councils so we accept that some councils may have omitted relevant information. This emphasises the need for formal assessment.

The online self-check does not confer a full NABERSNZ rating. It is an approximation of possible performance. For NABERSNZ certification an independent professional assessor is commissioned to verify the data and calculations. As more councils undertake full NABERSNZ their position may change on the table.

As part of the NABERSNZ self-assessment process, some assumptions were made such as the number of computers for the council building. Estimates were made based on a conservative measure of 1 computer for every 20 m2 area. The occupants were also assumed to use rentable area for 48 hours a week. As for buildings with a public library, the building energy use was assumed to include the energy used by public library, unless specified and energy use stated separately.

*South Waikato initially included energy consumption at South Waikato Indoor Heated Pool facility next door. They now acknowledge the error. An updated assessment with the new electricity data shows an estimated 2.5-3.5 Star rating. 

*Christchurch City Council have since checked the information provided under LGOIMA and says it provided diesel consumption data for the whole of Council, not just the Civic Building. The actual figure was 13,998 litres. An updated rating shows a 4.5-5.5 star rating as indicated in the release.

*South Taranaki District Council provided incorrect floor area information. They also provided diesel data from their vehicle fleet which NZGBC mistakenly used as part of the build rating. An updated assessment with the new data shows an estimated 3-4 star rating.