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ISO 21931-1:2010 Sustainability in building construction — Framework for methods of assessment of the environmental performance of construction works — Part 1: Buildings

by Mel Starrs on August 20, 2010

in Publications & Standards

As reported by Building4Change:image

A new ISO standard aims to bridge the gap between regional and national environmental assessment methods by providing a common framework for them to be carried out.

ISO 21931-1:2010 highlights the key issues to be assessed at every stage of a construction project, from design through to operation and refurbishment or deconstruction. Each of these stages impact on a building’s environmental performance throughout its lifetime and assessment methods are integral in determining its overall sustainability.

There is a clear requirement in the construction sector for such assessments to not only be accurate but consistent. An internationally agreed framework will help ensure that buildings are constructed as sustainably as possible whilst enabling projects to be benchmarked and progress monitored.

I’ve read it, so you don’t have to. It’s only 38 pages long though, and most of those are taken up by definitions, so perhaps I’m not as civic minded as first appears.

I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reproduce without infringing copyright law (10% rings a bell? can anyone clarify?), so I’ve kept the clippings to a minimum.

The ability to measure and understand the environmental performance of buildings is essential for communicating their potential environmental impacts and their influence on sustainable development.


This part of ISO 21931 does not set benchmarks or levels of performance relative to environmental impacts and aspects.

The document is more of an umbrella (for Europe) which will provide common language to enable standards (such as BREEAM, HQE and DGNB) to be relatable to each other.

We’ve long debated if we’ll end up with one environmental standard to rule them all, or continue to have local, national schemes relevant to location. Sustainability tends to be context specific, so having localised standards makes sense (and the path BREEAM is following), and this framework ought to make things easier. Indeed this is picked up in section 4.3:

The environmental performance of a building is influenced by the characteristics of the climatic, social, economic and cultural context of the nation, region and site in which the building is located.

Subject to the aims and objectives of the assessment, the environmental performance of a building shall be expressed by absolute values. In addition, relative values may be used alongside the absolute values. Relative values refer to given contexts and should reflect regionally relevant benchmarks, as appropriate

This document is not specifically calling for data measurement to be exactly replicated across different schemes – there are moves afoot to define common carbon metrics which will make this much easier, but that is not the purpose of this document.

Lifecycle impacts are explicitly encouraged:

All life-cycle stages shall be considered in the assessment. When some stages are not considered or are excluded from the assessment, the reasons for such omission or exclusion shall be clearly explained in the methodology documentation. The assessment report shall state which life-cycle stages are included and which life-cycle stages are excluded.

Interestingly, in the list of impacts to be considered by an assessment method, notable by their absence are physical location and context of the building, and transport. This does not sit comfortably with me – I have never quite forgiven CSH for removing the transport credits from EcoHomes. I suspect given this guidance document, the same may happen in BREEAM.

The document, if anything, enables any European country to come up with their own assessment method. There is nothing in there which negates the use of either BREEAM nor LEED (although lifecycle calculations may need to be tightened up somewhat). In fact, both schemes as they currently stand cover more ground than that which this document calls for.

Do you need to read this document? Probably not. It gives a good broad overview of the benefits of environmental assessments, so might be useful for that.

And now you don’t need to read it. Aren’t I good to you all?