The built environment is shaped by its regulatory frameworks and assessments; rules, guidance and standards that, in being met, ensure that buildings around the world are designed and constructed in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, not just from an environmental perspective, but from a socio-political standpoint as well. There’s one assessment method more than any other, however, that’s helped divert the previously often muddied waters of the built environment towards a greener, cleaner future – and that’s BREEAM. The team here at Munday + Cramer, a leading Essex-based architectural design and building surveying firm, wanted to explore this globally-accepted means of assessment (used in more than 85 countries) in more granular detail.
What Is BREEAM?
First, then, let’s explore what it actually is. Well, it stands for ‘Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method’. That’s a bit of a mouthful, though, so you can see why it’s almost universally referred to as BREEAM! It was primarily conceived by the BRE (who themselves have been operating as a renowned science centre, worldwide, since the 1920s) as a means of improving sustainability across the entire built environment lifecycle, including Communities, Infrastructure, New Construction, In-Use and Refurbishment and Fit-Out. The standards introduced have helped revolutionise the sustainability of architectural design for years now, with the assessment first introduced back in 1990.
The Aims Of BREEAM
The main aims of BREEAM are threefold:
- Encourage… continuing improvements to performance by setting standards above and beyond the current mandatory regulations.
- Empower… those who want to pursue sustainability, by transforming it into an achievable reality as opposed to a pipe-dream aspiration.
- Build Confidence and Value… by issuing independent, third-party certifications recognised around the world.
There’s a spectrum of BREEAM ratings that a project can be awarded. These range from Unclassified (non-compliant with BREEAM) to Outstanding (less than the top 1% of buildings). Achieving an Outstanding rating is one of the pinnacles to reach towards for anyone who’s involved in architectural design. The rating awards is contingent on the sustainability values achieved across 10 key areas. These are:
- Waste. An aim to reduce the quantities of constructional, operational and future maintenance waste from a project.
- Water. Shortages in water are becoming increasingly commonplace, worldwide. Any means of reducing water consumption and wastage that are implemented, therefore, are actively encouraged and rewarded.
- Transport. Issues focus on the provision of alternate transport solutions and public transport to help reduce congestion and emissions.
- Pollution. Measures taken in this category are intended to minimise the levels of noise, sound, water and air pollution.
- Energy. A category revolving around the focus on energy efficiency solutions. In its broadest sense, it focuses primarily on lighting and heating energy efficiency.
- Health and Wellbeing. Issues to be addressed mainly revolve around occupant satisfaction and quality of life.
- Innovation. The most open-ended and flexible of the categories, developers can score highly in this category if they’re able to display other innovative ways in which they can improve levels of sustainability.
- Land Use. This category looks at how the biodiversity of the site and the surrounding land can be enhanced as much as possible, and to mitigate the impacts of construction on surrounding flora and fauna.
- Materials. Revolves around the sustainable procurement of construction materials.
- Management. This approaches the long-term condition of projects and how their sustainability objectives can continue to be achieved in perpetuity.
Within each category, there are various assessment criteria or ‘issues’, with each one being met securing a certain number of credits. For instance, within the Management category, credits would be earned for securing a sustainable procurement plan. Or within the Health and Wellbeing tranche of assessment issues, the developer would score more highly if they installed acoustic insulation and soundproofing measures. The scoring system is, of course, significantly more complex in practice. The basic principles, however, are that the more criteria satisfied across those ten categories, the higher the BREEAM rating.
The Benefits Of BREEAM (Both Qualitative And Quantitative)
The BREEAM method of appraisal has unquestionably improved the way in which our built environment is designed, and its benefits are manifold and varied. Many of the benefits arising from BREEAM are more intangible; improvements to occupant wellbeing stemming from superior daylighting, for instance, as well as the social advantages it gives developers (greater recognition within the industry and improvements to a company’s overall Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR).
That’s not to say that the assessment’s benefits can’t be viewed through a more quantifiable lens as well, however. A report by The World Green Building Council in 2013, for instance, found that the sale value of certified green buildings is 30% higher than that of conventional code-compliant buildings. That very same report found that rental values of ‘green’ buildings were also similarly elevated when compared with ‘conventionally’ designed buildings.
Isn’t It Expensive?
An (unfounded) argument often levelled against the assessment method is that the extra investiture it requires therefore negates any potential savings down the line. This simply isn’t the case, however, with many developers who’ve adopted the standard (over half, in fact) in accordance that the extra financial outlay required, initially, in order to meet those elevated standards of sustainability, is paid back (and then some) in the operational savings made in the future.
In summary, the introduction of BREEAM two decades ago transformed the built environment, through its innovative thinking and lofty aspirations. Offering advantages to developers, landlords and occupants alike, any additional upfront costs initially incurred in order to enact these higher standards of sustainability are more than repaid later, both financially and in terms of a building’s contribution to a greener, more sustainable future. It may not get the same plaudits or grab the headlines in the way that perhaps flashier industry advancements do, but this is a standard which we’d no longer be able to live without – or want to for that matter.
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