Retrofitting commercial office buildings for sustainability : tenants’ expectations and experiences

Miller, Evonne & Buys, Laurie (2011) Retrofitting commercial office buildings for sustainability : tenants’ expectations and experiences. In Proceedings of the International Conference Management and Innovation for a Sustainable Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam.

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Buildings, which account for approximately half of all annual energy and greenhouse gas emissions, are an important target area for any strategy addressing climate change. Whilst new commercial buildings increasingly address sustainability considerations, incorporating green technology in the refurbishment process of older buildings is technically, financially and socially challenging. This research explores the expectations and experiences of commercial office building tenants, whose building was under-going green refurbishment.


Semi-structured in-depth interviews with seven residents and neighbours of a large case-study building under-going green refurbishment in Melbourne, Australia. Built in 1979, the 7,008m² ‘B’ grade building consists of 11 upper levels of office accommodation, ground floor retail, and a basement area leased as a licensed restaurant. After refurbishment, which included the installation of chilled water pumps, solar water heating, waterless urinals, insulation, disabled toilets, and automatic dimming lights, it was expected that the environmental performance of the building would move from a non-existent zero ABGR (Australian Building Greenhouse Rating) star rating to 3.5 stars, with a 40% reduction in water consumption and 20% reduction in energy consumption. Interviews were transcribed, with responses analysed using a thematic approach, identifying categories, themes and patterns.


Commercial property tenants are on a journey to sustainability - they are interested and willing to engage in discussions about sustainability initiatives, but the process, costs and benefits need to be clear. Critically, whilst sustainability was an essential and non-negotiable criterion in building selection for government and larger corporate tenants, sustainability was not yet a core business value for smaller organisations – whilst they could see it as an emerging issue, they wanted detailed cost-benefit analyses, pay-back calculations of proposed technologies and, ideally, wished they could trial the technology first-hand in some way. Although extremely interested in learning more, most participants reported relatively minimal knowledge of specific sustainability features, designs or products. In discussions about different sustainable technologies (e.g., waterless urinals, green-rated carpets), participants frequently commented that they knew little about the technology, had not heard of it or were not sure exactly how it worked. Whilst participants viewed sustainable commercial buildings as the future, they had varied expectations about the fate of existing older buildings – most felt that they would have to be retrofitted at some point to meet market expectations and predicted the emergence of a ‘non-sustainability discount’ for residing in a building without sustainable features.


This research offers a beginning point for understanding the difficulty of integrating green technology in older commercial buildings. Tenants currently have limited understandings of technology and potential building performance outcomes, which ultimately could impede the implementation of sustainable initiatives in older buildings. Whilst the commercial property market is interested in learning about sustainability in the built environment, the findings highlight the importance of developing a strong business case, communication and transition plan for implementing sustainability retrofits in existing commercial buildings.

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ID Code: 46923
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: commercial buildings, retrofitting for sustainability, qualitative research
ISBN: 9789052693958
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (050000) > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT (050200) > Environmental Management (050205)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > ARCHITECTURE (120100) > Architectural Science and Technology (incl. Acoustics Lighting Structure and Ecologically Sustainable Design) (120104)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 [please consult the authors]
Deposited On: 10 Nov 2011 00:04
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2011 04:56

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