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BREEAM is a means to an end

by mel starrs on January 16, 2008

in BREEAM

 Again, this is a draft which has been kicking around a long time.  I hope the links are still valid.  I was originally going to post this as part of a BREEAM primer, which still hasn’t quite materialised.  Some day I’ll pull all the threads together …

I’m beginning to see a dangerous tendency towards taking BREEAM almost as the definitive bible of green in British building. This is a step in the wrong direction for a number of reasons.

Firstly, BREEAM is not infallible. Certain credits can contradict others. The scheme covers such a breadth of disciplines that it would be impossible ‘to please all of the people, all of the time’. It has never been possible for a building to score 100% using the scheme, and it is hard to see without a major revision of the scheme how a building ever could.

What I believe BREEAM should be used for is a means to an end. By applying the principles of green design at the inception of a project, it should inherently be sustainable. What the world needs is not more BREEAM assessors (well, we do actually, but more of that another day), but more designers with green credentials.

The market at the minute is in an odd state. Clients, much like the rest of the country, are voting with their feet and demanding green buildings. BREEAM is currently the most widely used standard in the UK, and so is being ‘specified’ by clients to ensure they get what they want (which in essence is: low energy bills, satisfied occupants and employees and an element of green kudos). This is, in some cases, in lieu of choosing designers on their green merits. In many cases the risk is transferred to whoever has to deliver the building. The BREEAM assessor, instead of auditing a designer’s green building, is instead dictating what elements must be included to ensure the building gains the rating required by the client. As this gains momentum, the number of BREEAM assessors required increases, diverting a scarce resource (designers who are conversant with BREEAM and green design) away from design and into what is rapidly becoming a lucrative (in terms of volume of work, if not fee level) niche in the industry – providing BREEAM assessments and advice.

BREEAM in response to it’s growth and success has become increasingly more prescriptive, to enable a more administrative approach to simplify and speed up the process. This is turn reinforces the illusion of it being a rulebook.

There is also the danger of what happens legally if a building does not meet the required standard – think what the consequences of a highly publicised legal battle between designers and clients would be and what this could do to BREEAM? Potentially highly damaging to the entire industry.

We are in danger of running adrift here. I am a fan of BREEAM – it has some flaws but it is well established and still well respected. But to halt what I see as a downward spiral a number of things must change:

  • a return to a less prescriptive scheme which enables the designers to decide how best to address the environmental standards which are set
  • many more architects and designers embracing all aspects of green design and stopping using BREEAM as some kind of crutch

Perhaps we should be looking stateside and taking from LEED:

• Achieving LEED Platinum comes with a money-back guarantee. The USGBC will refund all certification fees (which can range from $2,000 to $12,000, depending on the project) for any building that achieves LEED Platinum. “We dare you to put us out of business,” Fedrizzi challenged the audience.

However, there are rumblings of dissension stateside too, with some comment here on the usefulness of LEED:

“The fact is that although LEED offers credible third-party certification, it needs to evolve and be more flexible to local conditions. It has proven weak at the national policy level and at times hampered more progressive approaches to high performance construction.”

BREEAM and LEED are victims of human nature – by instinct, we try to simplify complex matters.  Sustainability (oops – I said I wasn’t going to use that word, didn’t I?), OK, green buildings, are inherently complex and whilst simplifying issues into check lists, top ten rules and pieces of paper makes the “concept” easier to understand, we have to allow some flexibility into the system, or we run the risk of losing the big picture and missing the goal entirely.

  • Andrew

    I like the flexibility in LEED of the innovation credits. Unfortunately BRE didnt seem interested in this approach when we spoke to them on a bespoke scheme, but it would allow for more flexibility.

    Also what make LEED more accessible than BREEAM is the fact the system is open to architects and designers. Here you need to go on a £1000 course to find out the detail of the credit criteria!

    The money back guarantee for LEED is also an interesting concept, but again can’t see it being adopted over here.

  • Andrew

    I like the flexibility in LEED of the innovation credits. Unfortunately BRE didnt seem interested in this approach when we spoke to them on a bespoke scheme, but it would allow for more flexibility.

    Also what make LEED more accessible than BREEAM is the fact the system is open to architects and designers. Here you need to go on a £1000 course to find out the detail of the credit criteria!

    The money back guarantee for LEED is also an interesting concept, but again can’t see it being adopted over here.

  • Mark Brinkley

    Good piece. Common Sense 0 Clipboards 3.

  • Mark Brinkley

    Good piece. Common Sense 0 Clipboards 3.

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin

    Great post Mel.

    Having dabbled with BREEAM / ECO Homes a while ago, I too find more in LEED that will drive change and innovation, in addition to giving an assessment or recognition. My focus these days is more on buildings in use – the fm bit of our sector – and again find BREEAM wanting.

    I think it significant that LEED has the backing of a strong grassroots movement in the USGBC and GreenBuild. Clients, building owners,developers and constructors appear to want to use LEED for sound commercial benefits (cheaper insurance, higher price on home sales and rent per sq foot etc) than being ‘pressured’ to use here.

    Also on openness to drive change – for example, I noticed recently that LEED have published a schedule of innovation best practices that have gained innovation credits during assessments – cant find anything similar on line here for BREEAM. (link on isite)

    Mel, (and others) I would welcome your view on the future of BREEAM in light of the Code (for homes) and a possible Code for non domestic buildings.

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin

    Great post Mel.

    Having dabbled with BREEAM / ECO Homes a while ago, I too find more in LEED that will drive change and innovation, in addition to giving an assessment or recognition. My focus these days is more on buildings in use – the fm bit of our sector – and again find BREEAM wanting.

    I think it significant that LEED has the backing of a strong grassroots movement in the USGBC and GreenBuild. Clients, building owners,developers and constructors appear to want to use LEED for sound commercial benefits (cheaper insurance, higher price on home sales and rent per sq foot etc) than being ‘pressured’ to use here.

    Also on openness to drive change – for example, I noticed recently that LEED have published a schedule of innovation best practices that have gained innovation credits during assessments – cant find anything similar on line here for BREEAM. (link on isite)

    Mel, (and others) I would welcome your view on the future of BREEAM in light of the Code (for homes) and a possible Code for non domestic buildings.

  • Matt Grace

    Mel

    Great words. Having worked on and with BREEAM and now in Canada, having recently passed my LEED exam, there are some good points. LEED is much more accessible, more user friendly and can be used sensibly as a design tool. Unfortunately, BREEAM seems to respond to criticism by adding layers of complexity whereas what we all need and want is clear simple tools that will lead to greener buildings!

    Cheers

    Matt

  • Matt Grace

    Mel

    Great words. Having worked on and with BREEAM and now in Canada, having recently passed my LEED exam, there are some good points. LEED is much more accessible, more user friendly and can be used sensibly as a design tool. Unfortunately, BREEAM seems to respond to criticism by adding layers of complexity whereas what we all need and want is clear simple tools that will lead to greener buildings!

    Cheers

    Matt

  • David Strong

    Having been responsible for BREEAM for a number of years, you might think that I would rush to its defence! However, over the past few years I have become increasingly concerned that environmental assessment methods such as BREEAM and LEED, and targets like the CSH Level 6 can result in highly perverse and unhelpul outcomes.

    BREEAM was originally developed at a time when the level understanding about the key built environment impacts was poor (or non-existent) –over the past 15 years it has been phenomenally successful in raising awareness of the key issues.

    However, clients, designers and specifiers are much more informed and sophisticated now. In my view, the focus (obsession!) on a narrow set of environmental impacts is obscuring the really important objective of delivering genuine sustainability (yes, sorry about the use of the “S” word!) –I recently visited a school which had achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating and had won various awards for its energy performance. However, the acoustic environment in the school was so bad, that the teaching and learning outcomes were severely compromised. Is this a sustainable school? I don’t think so!

    In my view we need to move beyond tools and methodologies like BREEAM and LEED and adopt a “Whole system” approach to design – this is a completely different way of approaching and resolving the complex (and sometimes conflicting) challenges associated with delivering genuine sustainability. What’s required is a deep understanding that the problems are systemic and as such need to be addressed in this way. It’s about looking for the synergistic solutions that address and resolve multiple problems and issues simultaneously. It’s also about working within the constraints imposed by natural systems as much as working with them -this approach delivers huge social, human and environmental benefits. It also allows us to tunnel through cost barriers in a way which identifies and delivers economic advantage (i.e.by doing more with less), in a way which “ticking the boxes” and getting a BREEAM/CSH rating could never do.

    If the Gaia hypothesis taught us anything it should be to consider the whole not just the parts! Otherwise we will end up with utterly perverse outcomes such as millions of new homes achieving (in theory!) Code Level 3+ by installing technological bolt-on’s, but not even considering the dire environmental, social and human consequences of summer-time over-heating and/or inadequate ventilation!

    A whole system approach is very much what we are trying to achieve at Inbuilt (see http://www.inbuilt.co.uk ) and will the theme of my talk at Ecobuild this year –if anyone has any more examples of perverse outcomes resulting from adopting BREEAM/LEED (or the CSH), I would be delighted to hear about them.

  • David Strong

    Having been responsible for BREEAM for a number of years, you might think that I would rush to its defence! However, over the past few years I have become increasingly concerned that environmental assessment methods such as BREEAM and LEED, and targets like the CSH Level 6 can result in highly perverse and unhelpul outcomes.

    BREEAM was originally developed at a time when the level understanding about the key built environment impacts was poor (or non-existent) –over the past 15 years it has been phenomenally successful in raising awareness of the key issues.

    However, clients, designers and specifiers are much more informed and sophisticated now. In my view, the focus (obsession!) on a narrow set of environmental impacts is obscuring the really important objective of delivering genuine sustainability (yes, sorry about the use of the “S” word!) –I recently visited a school which had achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating and had won various awards for its energy performance. However, the acoustic environment in the school was so bad, that the teaching and learning outcomes were severely compromised. Is this a sustainable school? I don’t think so!

    In my view we need to move beyond tools and methodologies like BREEAM and LEED and adopt a “Whole system” approach to design – this is a completely different way of approaching and resolving the complex (and sometimes conflicting) challenges associated with delivering genuine sustainability. What’s required is a deep understanding that the problems are systemic and as such need to be addressed in this way. It’s about looking for the synergistic solutions that address and resolve multiple problems and issues simultaneously. It’s also about working within the constraints imposed by natural systems as much as working with them -this approach delivers huge social, human and environmental benefits. It also allows us to tunnel through cost barriers in a way which identifies and delivers economic advantage (i.e.by doing more with less), in a way which “ticking the boxes” and getting a BREEAM/CSH rating could never do.

    If the Gaia hypothesis taught us anything it should be to consider the whole not just the parts! Otherwise we will end up with utterly perverse outcomes such as millions of new homes achieving (in theory!) Code Level 3+ by installing technological bolt-on’s, but not even considering the dire environmental, social and human consequences of summer-time over-heating and/or inadequate ventilation!

    A whole system approach is very much what we are trying to achieve at Inbuilt (see http://www.inbuilt.co.uk ) and will the theme of my talk at Ecobuild this year –if anyone has any more examples of perverse outcomes resulting from adopting BREEAM/LEED (or the CSH), I would be delighted to hear about them.

  • frederika whitehead

    David, I was wondering what you think of the inclusion of post-assessment reviews in BREEAM 2008? Are these enough to ensure that mistakes are learnt from? How could BREEAM stop people from building in unsuitable locations in the first place? – i refer to your comments on flood plains.

  • frederika whitehead

    David, I was wondering what you think of the inclusion of post-assessment reviews in BREEAM 2008? Are these enough to ensure that mistakes are learnt from? How could BREEAM stop people from building in unsuitable locations in the first place? – i refer to your comments on flood plains.

  • frederika whitehead

    doh, obviously i meant post-CONSTRUCTION reviews

  • frederika whitehead

    doh, obviously i meant post-CONSTRUCTION reviews

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  • Andrew

    Hi Mel,

    I’ve just been on the new BREEAM in use course. It is interesting in that it takes quite a different approach to the other BREEAM methods. Particularly in that it is a self assessment with an audit accepting evidence that would stand up in court (so called M’Lud evidence) and what a reasonable person might accept. Also the certification is by the auditor rather than the BRE themselves.

    The slightly strange/difficult thing is due the intellectual property concerns the scoring methodology is hidden, which makes it difficult to understand how to improve the score to gain a particular rating.

    Maybe this is how future version of design/procurement BREEAMs will develop in future?

  • Andrew

    Hi Mel,

    I’ve just been on the new BREEAM in use course. It is interesting in that it takes quite a different approach to the other BREEAM methods. Particularly in that it is a self assessment with an audit accepting evidence that would stand up in court (so called M’Lud evidence) and what a reasonable person might accept. Also the certification is by the auditor rather than the BRE themselves.

    The slightly strange/difficult thing is due the intellectual property concerns the scoring methodology is hidden, which makes it difficult to understand how to improve the score to gain a particular rating.

    Maybe this is how future version of design/procurement BREEAMs will develop in future?

  • Anthony Heaton Jones

    Dear Mel (and anyone else who picks this up)

    I am an MSc Student preparing to write a Dissertation on “BREEAM is it worth it and does its careful design and implementation help or
    hinder the construction process” I have found reference to your BREAM on your website and was wondering if you still had the same thought and whether or not you cuold share some of them with me in relation to my dissertion outlined below,I would be most grateful for your thoughts and ides.

    The Proposed Project:

    The author is a consultant working for a University, managing an Enhanced Health and Safety/Construction Design and Management (CDM) Service. The University have a large scale building and refurbishment programme where one of their key objectives is to achieve an excellent rating on the British Research Establishments Environmental Assessment Model (BREEAM) for new builds and very good for refurbishments. As the CDM Co-ordinator (CDMC) the author has coordinated the design and construction of numerous multimillion pound projects where BREEAM has been successfully implemented. However in the opinion of others on the design team, it has been very difficult to achieve the required points.

    It is the author’s opinion that the Clients desire for a sustainable property portfolio is driven by pressure from higher education funding bodies such as HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) who, prior to the release of funds will scrutinise the applicant for its green credentials.

    The principle behind this paper is to ascertain if effective design and planning actually improves sustainability, safety and quality on projects or is the client being driven by public perception and corporate and social responsibilities and ultimately paying a high price for a building they cannot effectively manage!

    Provisional Overall aim of the Project:

    The overall aim of the project is to establish if implementing BREEAM is actually worth the time, money and whether design and execution of sustainable building techniques helps or hinders the construction process.

    Specific Research Objectives:

    The aim of the following objectives will assist in either proving or disproving if the provisional aim of the project is true or false. It is envisaged that the objectives listed below will be translated into questions for use within the questionnaire.

    – To confirm if a sustainable building is what the Client actually wants or if the are they being forced into the process by outside factors such as planning authorities and funding bodies?

    – To ascertain, roughly, who much additional costs does the implementation of BREEAM place on a construction project?

    – Does the “Green Guide to Construction” interlace with BREEAM and modern building techniques?

    – To establish if there is a correlation between the installations of highly technical equipment and an increase in construction site accidents due to an aging workforce.

    As previously mentioned your assistance on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards

    Anthony Heaton-Jones

  • http://N/A Anthony Heaton Jones

    Dear Mel (and anyone else who picks this up)

    I am an MSc Student preparing to write a Dissertation on “BREEAM is it worth it and does its careful design and implementation help or
    hinder the construction process” I have found reference to your BREAM on your website and was wondering if you still had the same thought and whether or not you cuold share some of them with me in relation to my dissertion outlined below,I would be most grateful for your thoughts and ides.

    The Proposed Project:

    The author is a consultant working for a University, managing an Enhanced Health and Safety/Construction Design and Management (CDM) Service. The University have a large scale building and refurbishment programme where one of their key objectives is to achieve an excellent rating on the British Research Establishments Environmental Assessment Model (BREEAM) for new builds and very good for refurbishments. As the CDM Co-ordinator (CDMC) the author has coordinated the design and construction of numerous multimillion pound projects where BREEAM has been successfully implemented. However in the opinion of others on the design team, it has been very difficult to achieve the required points.

    It is the author’s opinion that the Clients desire for a sustainable property portfolio is driven by pressure from higher education funding bodies such as HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) who, prior to the release of funds will scrutinise the applicant for its green credentials.

    The principle behind this paper is to ascertain if effective design and planning actually improves sustainability, safety and quality on projects or is the client being driven by public perception and corporate and social responsibilities and ultimately paying a high price for a building they cannot effectively manage!

    Provisional Overall aim of the Project:

    The overall aim of the project is to establish if implementing BREEAM is actually worth the time, money and whether design and execution of sustainable building techniques helps or hinders the construction process.

    Specific Research Objectives:

    The aim of the following objectives will assist in either proving or disproving if the provisional aim of the project is true or false. It is envisaged that the objectives listed below will be translated into questions for use within the questionnaire.

    – To confirm if a sustainable building is what the Client actually wants or if the are they being forced into the process by outside factors such as planning authorities and funding bodies?

    – To ascertain, roughly, who much additional costs does the implementation of BREEAM place on a construction project?

    – Does the “Green Guide to Construction” interlace with BREEAM and modern building techniques?

    – To establish if there is a correlation between the installations of highly technical equipment and an increase in construction site accidents due to an aging workforce.

    As previously mentioned your assistance on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards

    Anthony Heaton-Jones

  • Andrew

    Anthony

    – To confirm if a sustainable building is what the Client actually wants or if the are they being forced into the process by outside factors such as planning authorities and funding bodies?

    BREEAM is often specified as part of planning or funding these days. Blue chip clients will also specify it for offices particularly as a way of differentiating their offer from the competition.

    – To ascertain, roughly, who much additional costs does the implementation of BREEAM place on a construction project?

    BRE published some research a few years back called “Putting a price on sustainability”. Roughly between nothing and 7% capex depending on location, building type and what level you are trying to achieve.

    – Does the “Green Guide to Construction” interlace with BREEAM and modern building techniques?

    The green guide is a tool to determine some of the materials credits in BREEAM. It’s presence in a voluntary tool is fair enough, but acquires a quasi legal status when BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes in particular is a planning or other legal requirement. By implication to achieve any code rating you must use the Green guide as it is a mandatory credit and there is no alternative to it currently offered or available.

    – To establish if there is a correlation between the installations of highly technical equipment and an increase in construction site accidents due to an aging workforce.

    Don’t think so, at least not in our experience…

  • Andrew

    Anthony

    – To confirm if a sustainable building is what the Client actually wants or if the are they being forced into the process by outside factors such as planning authorities and funding bodies?

    BREEAM is often specified as part of planning or funding these days. Blue chip clients will also specify it for offices particularly as a way of differentiating their offer from the competition.

    – To ascertain, roughly, who much additional costs does the implementation of BREEAM place on a construction project?

    BRE published some research a few years back called “Putting a price on sustainability”. Roughly between nothing and 7% capex depending on location, building type and what level you are trying to achieve.

    – Does the “Green Guide to Construction” interlace with BREEAM and modern building techniques?

    The green guide is a tool to determine some of the materials credits in BREEAM. It’s presence in a voluntary tool is fair enough, but acquires a quasi legal status when BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes in particular is a planning or other legal requirement. By implication to achieve any code rating you must use the Green guide as it is a mandatory credit and there is no alternative to it currently offered or available.

    – To establish if there is a correlation between the installations of highly technical equipment and an increase in construction site accidents due to an aging workforce.

    Don’t think so, at least not in our experience…

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  • Mark Siddall

    Is LEED all that it’s cracked up to be? Some would, quite convincingly, suggest that it is not delivering: http://tiny.cc/atSsa Is BREEAM really much better?

    I’m all for the whole systems thinking. There’s not enough of that going on: http://www.greenspec.co.uk/html/opinion/wholesystem.html
    To paraphrase Amory Lovins “You don’t just need a good recipe you need a great cook that can combine all the right ingredients in the right proportions and the appropriate order….. So, how do you make elephant and rabbit stew? One elephant and one rabbit?”

  • Mark Siddall

    Is LEED all that it’s cracked up to be? Some would, quite convincingly, suggest that it is not delivering: http://tiny.cc/atSsa Is BREEAM really much better?

    I’m all for the whole systems thinking. There’s not enough of that going on: http://www.greenspec.co.uk/html/opinion/wholesystem.html
    To paraphrase Amory Lovins “You don’t just need a good recipe you need a great cook that can combine all the right ingredients in the right proportions and the appropriate order….. So, how do you make elephant and rabbit stew? One elephant and one rabbit?”