How to decarbonise NZ schools New report spells it out—and the timeframe is ambitious

16 May 2022 by Jason Quinn

Clear, specific and timely actions to reduce schools’ operational and embodied carbon footprint are contained in a recent Ministry of Education (MoE) report, .

The recommendations are excellent and they matter because the Ministry manages a huge real estate portfolio and is a major real estate developer:

  • over 16,000 buildings
  • used by over 790,000 students
  • in 2100 state-owned schools/kura

The report found carbon emissions for the schools studied were evenly split between embodied and operational, taking a 60-year service life. An excellent list of actions were proposed, best is the recommended timeframe: July 2022! The most significant recommendations for me are as follows.


  • Establish requirements for comprehensive carbon footprint data capture for all new Ministry-led school construction projects by July 2022.
  • Establish embodied carbon targets that reduce over time for new Ministry-led school construction projects from July 2022 onwards, starting with an initial whole-of-life embodied carbon threshold of 500kg CO2 eq.Total/m2 (for a 60-year service life).


  • Establish requirements for operational carbon footprint data modelling for all new Ministry-led school construction projects from July 2022.
  • Establish operational carbon targets, starting with an initial operational energy threshold of 60kWh/m2.a each for thermal performances and services efficiency that reduce over time for all Ministry-led school construction projects from July 2022.
  • Prohibit new permanent installations of fossil fuel boilers (starting now) and phase out all coal boilers across the school property portfolio by 2025.

Schools are, as the report notes, ”valuable, multi-generational social assets”. The book value is over $20 billion. The scale of the school property portfolio results in a large environmental footprint so it’s important that decisive action is taken.

That’s particularly the case given the legacy issues faced by this portfolio. Leaky buildings—and others that were simply poorly built and need more maintenance than expected—are a major issue for the MoE. These problems steal money away from its real goal of educating our children. In response, construction guides have been developed to address some of the weathertightness techniques now specified in MoE building plans. I often recommend its weathertightness guide as it is a significant improvement over the NZBC acceptable solutions. It could still be improved, as details in the High-Performance Construction Details Handbook show.

The internal results in the report were based on the BRANZ Carbon Intensity Carbon footprint and comfort assessment of four New Zealand school buildings, 2021. I haven’t located this report yet so if someone could send me a copy I’d appreciate it. I’d especially like to see how the operational energy calculations were done.

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