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NABERS leadership in seniors' living

News | 13 Sep 2023
Mornington Peninsula Grange Retirement Community, Victoria. Australian Unity

Australian Unity has committed to rate over 50 assets with the help of the NSW Government’s Energy Starters grants.

As NABERS expands into the retirement living and aged care sectors, Australian Unity has committed to rate 50-plus assets and is doing so with the help of the NSW Government’s Energy Starters grants program.

“We know the value of NABERS as an independently verified and widely recognised benchmark. We also know it can be challenging to achieve NABERS ratings in asset classes that have just started their ESG journey, but at Australian Unity our team is getting on with it.” 

Parag Shinde, National Manager – ESG (Property), Australian Unity  

Australian Unity has delivered on the ‘S’ in ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance – since its foundation in 1840. But its complex, community-focused portfolio of health, wealth and aged care businesses makes managing its environmental impact a challenge.  

The first step to sustainable management is measurement – and a NABERS rating can enhance both sustainability and service provision by identifying efficiency improvements. 

Australian Unity’s team understands the benefit of NABERS benchmarks. Its office fund has been rated for many years and has participated in the NABERS Sustainable Portfolio Index for the past two years, improving upon Year 1 performance.  

“We began implementing a transition plan for net zero within our property boundary last year. A key focus for our plan is data capture and analysis supported by smart metering, utility bill capture and validation, anomaly detection, operational optimisation and asset benchmarking using NABERS ratings,” Parag says. 

Fast facts 

  • In the retirement living sector, NABERS ratings of one to six stars, based on the energy and water efficiency of a site, can be used to identify cost savings and building improvements as well as to promote environmental credentials to attract residents, investors or other partners. 

  • More than 48 organisations with 300-plus facilities were involved in the development of the NABERS rating tool for the retirement living and aged care sector, and benchmarks were tested on 17 facilities during the pilot phase. 

  • Australian Unity’s assets in New South Wales are being rated with the help of funding under the NSW Government’s Energy Starters grants program. This provides financial incentives to help asset owners achieve their first NABERS Energy and Water ratings. 

  • Australian Unity is preparing to rate 26 aged care assets owned by AU Healthcare Property Trust and around 25 owned by AU Seniors Living Fund, which has co-located retirement living and aged care assets in many locations.

At a glance: Retirement living and residential aged care assets 

A retirement village is an age-appropriate housing development that offers a range of accommodation and lifestyle options. Residents live independently in their own homes while enjoying the benefits of community living. Residential aged care, on the other hand, is for people who can no longer live independently, or who need 24/7 care and support.

More than a million Australians are supported by aged care services each year and another 200,000-plus, according to the Retirement Living Census, are retirement living residents. As senior Australians look for continuity of care, the aged care and retirement living sectors are converging – and 26% of retirement villages have co-located aged care, adding extra complexity to already multifaceted operations. 

Sustainability in the spotlight 

NABERS is a rating tool that performs many functions across a portfolio of assets, Parag Shinde observes. It sets a baseline before asset owners embark on capital upgrades, is an education and engagement tool, and a proof point for discussion with investors, he says. 

“Many retail investors, as well as superannuation funds, are sending us requests for documentation to demonstrate our ESG commitment and performance. When you improve an asset, year on year, the NABERS framework provides independent verification. It’s not just me saying we are improving."  

“Greenwashing is a big issue coming into the investment and disclosure field of play. We are constantly being asked for proof of the claims we make. This is the new reality. One of the best ways to avoid greenwashing claims in the property sector is a NABERS rating.” 

“We need independent and verified baselines to benchmark our buildings. That’s why we use NABERS.” 

Parag Shinde, National Manager – ESG, Australian Unity

Planning for the unexpected 

Lisa Williams, Head of Business Management at NettZero, has been a registered NABERS Assessor since 2008 and has undertaken hundreds of assessments over her career.  

NettZero is now helping retirement living and aged care providers rate their assets with NABERS for the first time. “The focus of the entire sector is the wellbeing of people and that means we are encountering challenges that are new,” Lisa notes. 

The initial NABERS rating is always the hardest because that’s when it takes time to track down the right documentation. “The first step to any NABERS rating is to scrutinise your energy bills – but we can’t always find the documentation we need.” 

This first rating period is when gaps in operational procedures are uncovered, as well as opportunities to systematise data capture and reporting. As Lisa says: “It’s a great learning curve. That’s what NABERS does – steps people through a process of improvement.” 

A new era is ahead 

The Australian Unity team is optimistic that a new era of resource and operational efficiency is ahead for the sector. “It’s a complex asset class, although all stakeholders have been supportive,” Parag says. “We survey our residents in Australian Unity-operated retirement living villages every two years. Although a long-term correlation is hard to establish, we are seeing a substantial increase in the number of people interested to know more about how the communities they live in can reduce utility cost and emissions.” 

Lisa agrees with Parag’s assessment that it is “early days” for the sector but is also exciting to see the next generation of facility managers upskilled in sustainability. “Once one company rates its portfolio and can demonstrate the value of the NABERS benchmark to the whole sector, everyone will jump on board. Full transparency will lead to greater efficiencies and that’s so important in a budget-conscious sector like aged care.” 

Lisa’s message to the market is clear. “The initial rating will be challenging. But once you benchmark your facility the only way is up. You gain real transparency from a trusted national rating system. You get recommendations to reduce costs as well as emissions. And if you’re in New South Wales, you get financial support to start the rating process.” 

The NSW Government’s Energy Starters grants program is helping owners and operators in the retirement living and aged care sector to take their first steps towards higher performance. If your building is in NSW, you can access financial incentives to get your first certified NABERS Energy and Water ratings. Find out how NABERS can help you to create a culture of measurement and improvement today.