Library image, photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

Australian non-domestic buildings policy as an international exemplar

08 April, 2021

Australian non-domestic buildings policy as an international exemplar

Peter Mallaburn

Tina Fawcett

Marina Topouzi

Research paper   Buildings & EnergyPolicy & Governance

Peter Mallaburn, Rayan Azhari, Tina Fawcett and Marina Topouzi


The Australian policy approach, based on the NABERS energy performance benchmarking scheme for commercial offices, is promoted as a ‘success story’ and is of interest to governments internationally. This paper explores the evidence for the impacts of the Australian approach on energy use and carbon emissions, identifies the key elements of its conception, design and implementation, and investigates the role of government. It uses a mixture of literature review, re-analysis of quantitative data and analysis of 30 original stakeholder interviews. The literature suggests that NABERS’ appeal to multiple benefits of energy efficiency and its place in the wider policy mix should help deliver positive results. Analysis of publicly available data has highlighted data gaps. However, evidence suggests significant energy savings have been made, although the attribution to NABERS alone, given the policy mix, is uncertain. The interviews show high levels of agreement that the policy mix has transformed large commercial office buildings. They also highlight the wide range of actors mobilised to deliver this change and the central role of well-designed government intervention and support. The Australian experience is rightly of interest to international governments, but they must recognise that replicating its success requires attention to detail and long-term commitment.

Policy relevance

The decarbonisation of commercial buildings is challenging and many countries, including the UK, are struggling to make progress. In-use performance benchmarking policies such as NABERS are considered to be effective by engaging with industry and promoting the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. The lessons from the Australian experience help to identify four key policy design features for governments to consider: (1) political leadership, adequate financial resources and people with the right engineering and market skills and experience; (2) an in-use performance benchmark designed to allow industry to innovate and aligned with the way both buildings and energy managers operate; (3) the careful and progressive application of government interventions to tackle poor performance without compromising the voluntary nature of the policy; and (4) a governance model to give industry effective, but measured and proportionate, influence over the design and implementation of the policy.

Publication details

Mallaburn, P., Azhari, R., Fawcett, T. & Topouzi, M. 2021. Australian non-domestic buildings policy as an international exemplar. Buildings and Cities, 2(1): 318–335. doi: Opens in a new tab10.5334/bc.114 

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash