Sustainability rating tools cheat sheet

The Green List

A cheat sheet to green rating tools

Navigating the green rating tool landscape can be enough to give you a headache, with an estimated 600 tools in use around the world.

Each sustainability tool measures something different and has its own strengths and flaws, so picking the right ones for your building projects can be challenging.

Fortunately, we’ve put together a cheat sheet to help you understand the most common rating tools used in Australia.

Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS)

NatHERS is essentially a measuring tape for guessing how much energy will be needed to heat or cool a prospective home.

Software developed by the CSIRO models your house plans and takes a stab at its future thermal performance, taking into account the direction the building will face, climate and building materials.

Where is it used? Nationwide

Who runs it? Commonwealth government on behalf of all Australian governments.

Mandatory or not? NatHERS is used for energy efficiency regulatory purposes through the National Construction Code (NCC). This is overseen by state and territory governments. 

Measurement system: 0-10 stars

National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS)

NABERS pits buildings against similar buildings to see how they do on energy performance and other impact areas, such as water and waste.

These tools look at a building’s energy consumption (or other environmental uses such as water use) over the course of a year, and then also factor in building size, how many people use it, what time of day they use it, and what the local climate is like. It then compares like with like and benchmarks the data against other buildings in the same situation.

The tool is widely used, particularly for office buildings. Unlike predictive tools, it can only be used only for existing buildings and is designed to measure actual verified performance.

NABERS is used for offices (base building and tenancy), shopping centres, hotels, data centres, and apartment blocks.

Where is it used? Nationwide

Who runs it? The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage on behalf of the federal government

Mandatory or not? Mandatory for office buildings of 1000 square metres or more 

Measurement system: zero to six stars

Green Star

Green Star leaves no stone unturned to rate buildings and communities on both design and performance. Only buildings that receive a 4 star or above qualify for a Green Star rating – the rest don’t make the cut.

There are Green Star ratings for design and construction, interior fit out and construction, precinct planning and development, and performance across a range of categories, including energy, transport, water, materials and land use.

Green Star ratings are available for every building type, including schools, offices, universities, industrial facilities, public buildings, retail centres and hospitals.

Where is it used? Nationwide

Who runs it? Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA)

Mandatory or not? Voluntary

Measurement system: zero to six stars

The Living Building Challenge 

Unlike other rating systems that give you a score, you either meet the Living Building Challenge, or you don’t. To reach this highest honour in sustainable built form, buildings must behave like plants, preferably flowers, in that they are “net positive” on energy, water and waste.

Avoiding the long “red list” of chemicals and materials that are not allowed poses a particular challenge for those going after the rating. “Beauty” is even listed as a Living Building Challenge criteria.

Buildings must also produce 105 per cent of the energy the building will need.

Where is it used? Nationwide

Who runs it? Living Future Institute Australia

Mandatory or not? Voluntary

Building Sustainability Index (BASIX)

BASIX sets the bar for NSW homes or renovations to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions and water use. It aims to reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by around 40 per cent (varies according to region and home type) compared to pre-BASIX (2004) buildings.

BASIX covers the building envelope thermal performance and a wide range of household energy uses by fixed equipment such as heating and cooling appliances, lighting and hot water.

BASIX is a web-based tool for anyone to use. Users plug in data about the home or renovations – such as location, size and building materials. BASIX analyses this data and works out how it scores against energy and water targets. The design must pass specific targets — which vary according to location and building type — before a BASIX certificate is handed out. 

Where is it used? NSW

Who runs it? The NSW government

Mandatory or not? Mandatory, enforces minimum standards for all new dwellings and alterations and additions to existing dwellings 

The Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard or BESS was developed by a group of councils in metropolitan Melbourne as an aid to planning applicants and to complement sustainable design assessment. Designed to rate the sustainability and efficiency features of residential and non-residential buildings, the BESS tool is free to users and is paid for by subscribing councils.

The WELL Building Standard

Launched in 2014, the WELL Building Standard is a building certification that focuses exclusively on human health and wellness. The standard looks at the quality of air, natural light and water in buildings, and encourages healthy eating choices, active lifestyles and good mental health.

Other global rating tools are sometimes used in Australia. These include the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) used in the US and elsewhere, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) first developed in the UK, and One Planet Living.