WHILE their employees' super scheme is making world headlines for sustainability, NSW councils have been slow to successfully promote a scheme to retrospectively "green" commercial and multi-unit residential buildings.

More than two years after legislation was passed enabling property owners to finance environmental upgrades through council rates only one council - Parramatta - has signed such an agreement.

Under the Local Government Amendment (Environmental Upgrade Agreements) Act building owners can borrow money for energy and water efficiency works and the repayments are made by a charge on council rates. This involves a voluntary agreement between the landlord, the financier and the council.

Because the loan is secured against the property a lower interest rate normally applies. Previously there was little incentive for building owners to upgrade their buildings because they could not pass on the costs to their tenants who are the beneficiaries of lower power and water bills. They can, however, charge tenants for council rates.

Parramatta Council has signed the state's first environmental upgrading agreement with Australian Unity, the owner of 10 Valentine Avenue, Parramatta.

The agreement was initiated by the NSW State Property Authority, the tenant of the building. The agreement will fund a lighting upgrade which will reduce lighting costs by an estimated 60 per cent.

"EUAs in Parramatta's CBD alone can potentially attract $150 million of investment in building upgrades, create 148 full-time jobs and reduce building owners' outgoing costs by $26 million, through water and electricity savings," the lord mayor of Parramatta, John Chedid, said.

The chief executive of Low Carbon Australia, Meg McDonald, said there was a strong business case for upgrading existing commercial property.