What does the future hold for BREEAM?

Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

What does the future hold for BREEAM?

The struggling economy and government cuts have lead to a number of articles being published which explore the future of BREEAM and its purpose and benefit within the current construction climate. The general consensus of these articles seems to be that, whilst there are a number of fairly significant issues with BREEAM, it is still currently the best option for independently benchmarking the overall sustainable performance of non-domestic developments in the UK. In addition, most of the articles agree that scrapping BREEAM for the sake of cost cutting would have a detrimental effect on the sustainable performance and quality of building construction.

BREEAM is one of the longest running and most widely subscribed methodologies for assessing the sustainable design and performance of buildings in the UK, but, it is by no means the only option for design teams. Other methodologies which assess one or more aspect of the environmental performance of a development include Passivhaus, LEED and Green Star standards. In addition, since April 2008 new non-domestic properties are also required to have an EPC certificate which documents the amount of carbon dioxide produced each year.

Despite the alternatives, BREEAM is still seen as the ‘preferred’ option within the UK. This is probably as much to do with its market dominance (More than 200,000 buildings have achieved BREEAM ratings and more than 1,000,000 have been registered since 1990) as it has to do with the scope and contents of the scheme As a BREEAM assessor, I am frequently asked why we should bother with benchmarking the sustainability of developments at all. In truth, there are a number of good reasons why we should continue. These include the following:

  • Recognition of sustainable performance over and above regulatory requirements
  • Providing a standard yardstick for comparing buildings
  • Helping developers monitor the quality of their development
  • Promoting continuous improvement in building construction
  • Encouraging better design of occupied spaces
  • Independently benchmarking gives credibility to environmental claims

Whilst there are many positive aspects of environmental benchmarking, I am also aware that many developers and contractors also have a number of issues with the process of environmental benchmarking and in particular BREEAM. These include the following:

  • The additional cost of achieving a set benchmark are sometimes seen as unnecessary
  • Aspects of benchmarking are sometimes not really relevant to a particular development and therefore can end up being a ‘tick box’ only exercise.
  • The rigidity of the criteria and evidence requirements makes providing the appropriate information difficult

In reality, whilst many of the above are valid points, the impact of these issues can be mitigated if BREEAM is considered from an early enough stage. In many cases, if the BREEAM issues are appropriately considered from the outset of the project, then many of the credit requirements can be made to dovetail with other regulations and requirements and/or only require minor alterations to the design.

Also, if the BREEAM issues are considered at the beginning of the design stage, then additional credits can be easily and cost effectively included. In reality, the costly part of achieving BREEAM is generally the inclusion of credits which have been ‘bolted on’ late in the design stage. Again, it is these ‘bolt on’ credits which generally offer the least real benefit and end up being included solely to tick the BREEAM box.

Therefore, as stated in my previous post my advice is to employ an assessor who specialises in BREEAM from the start of the design process. This will not only help the design team maximise the potential rating, but will also help them understand their role and ensure that, as and when information if produced, it is done so in a format which is acceptable for BREEAM.

To summarise, whilst it is not perfect, BREEAM does still offer a benefit to the design and construction of developments and, if considered at an early enough stage, shouldn’t create too much unnecessary work. In reality, even taking into consideration the current economic climate and the governments strive for efficiency, it is likely that BREEAM will be around in some form or other for a number of years to come.


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