Design for Performance

A new approach to delivering energy-efficiency in UK offices

The Design for Performance (DfP) initiative is an industry backed project established to tackle the performance gap and provide an approach, based on measurable performance outcomes, to ensure new office developments deliver on their design intent. 

The Better Buildings Partnership has been working for over a decade to help our members improve the energy performance of their property portfolios. These efforts, whilst highlighting and supporting industry leadership, have been significantly hampered by a number of key issues: 

  • The regulations intended to achieve this outcome are failing - they secure energy efficiency in theory but not in practice. 
  • Existing voluntary certification schemes examine design intent, but rarely check or verify whether this intent delivers buildings that perform better. 
  • Data on actual operational performance is not easily obtainable or delineated to ensure appropriate accountability for performance and drive improvement. 
  • Operational performance is not reported upon and is therefore invisible to the market, most especially investors and occupiers. 

In summary, the UK has a design-for-compliance culture which has led to the well-known ‘performance gap’ that exists between original design intent and how a building truly performs in-use.

In contrast, Australia has had a system to measure and rate the operational efficiency of its commercial offices since 1999 - NABERS. The scheme now covers 86% of the office market and the energy intensity of landlord services has improved by 36% since the scheme started. Put simply, Australia has learnt to deliver far better energy performing office buildings than those in the UK, driven by the transparency of the NABERS ratings.

The DfP initiative is working to bring the knowledge and success of NABERS to the UK by applying the same principles that have been so effective in Australia to a certification scheme for new UK office developments. This involves: 

  • Developing a rating scheme with associated rules, assessment and quality assurance processes. 
  • Identifying a scheme administrator with the responsibility to oversee and administer a scheme in the UK.
  • Identifying market pioneers who are willing to develop the approach and commit to setting performance targets for their new office development projects. 
  • Identifying training partners who will help upskill the industry in advanced simulation and energy efficient design. 
  • Working with industry bodies to ensure alignment and synergy with wider initiatives and activities. 

The DfP initiative is supported by NABERS and wider industry partners and funded by DfP Pioneers - see Project Partners. Technical expertise to support the development of the scheme for the UK is being provided by Verco and Delta Q.


As part of a 3-year programme of work, the DfP initiative has reviewed the success factors of the NABERS Energy Rating & Commitment Agreement and tested the applicability of developing such a framework in the UK. The key reports detailing these findings are as follows: