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My BREEAM 2010 wishlist

by Mel Starrs on September 17, 2010


Over the summer, BRE have been consulting on changes to BREEAM, including an event in conjunction with UKGBC, which I attended (evidence is available on Hattie’s blog). The feedback from the UKGBC event is available on their website.

The new BREEAM will hopefully be released in October and will align with Part L (a decision had not been made about where levels should be set for energy credit ENE1 for Excellent and Outstanding and if they should be made mandatory for other grades too the last time I spoke to anyone at BRE, but they are aware of the issues I raised in this post).

From Anna Surgenor:

Key areas that the UK-GBC has highlighted include:

· Real data is crucial. The sharing of performance data from BREEAM rated buildings would be hugely beneficial for the industry. This, alongside integrating operational performance into building certification, would help deal with discrepancies between design stage energy use calculations and actual energy use in occupation.

· Rating the sustainability of buildings is still a rapidly developing discipline and is becoming increasingly complex as new issues rise up the agenda. BRE Global should review the BREEAM guidance to consider new areas for incorporation and the setting of minimum standards. One area that demands more attention is the responsible sourcing and embodied impacts of materials. Greater transparency of the data and lifecycle models behind the Green Guide and the Environmental Profiles Methodology would be hugely beneficial in this area.

· Industry requires certainty, both from government policy, but also from market-led initiatives such as BREEAM. It would be helpful if BREEAM were to clearly set out future strategies and direction so that industry is prepared for future changes, including how these will relate to government policies and regulations.

· As BREEAM uptake grows, so too the operations of BREEAM need to become more responsive to consumer needs. Improving customer service, including response times and practicalities such as moving to online systems should be considered.

Basically, now would be a good time for BREEAM to take stock, examine what the market really requires and address these needs. BREEAM is by no means perfect, but personally I find it more helpful to liaise with BRE, rather than indiscriminately BREEAM-bash. So in the spirit of contributing to the conversation, here is my personal wishlist:

1. Intention

The boundaries of where BREEAM begins and ends and what exactly it is trying to achieve seem to be somewhat fluid right now. Does it want to be an umbrella under which other schemes such as Soft Landings can sit? It is clear from the consultation comments from industry that industry is confused as to what BREEAM’s role is. And add to the mix In Use, Communities and it all gets very confusing for clients to understand.

Time for a mission statement I think (we all love a mission statement, don’t we?).

2. Greater Transparency

In many ways, BREEAM suffers from being of its time. It’s 20 years old and sometimes it shows. The world is a lot more transparent these days than it was in 1990.

Ideally I would like to see a list of all BREEAM projects under each scheme and year, number registered and certified, with details of which particular credits were achieved. For example, knowing that 25 BREEAM Industrial 2008 projects have been registered and only 7 certified at design stage with 1 at post construction review, and that of those 7, none had gained the responsible sourcing credit would be very useful and interesting to me (this is a completely made up example – I have no idea of the numbers). It is possible to create a visual from the LEED data (initially done by Rob Bolin of of Syska Hennessy Group and published in December 2003 edition Environmental Building News) of each credit and how often it is used in each rating level. Something similar for BREEAM would be very useful.image

This would enable better informed cost based decisions to be made. Surely a good thing?

For example, I recently had a conversation with a friend of a colleague who was looking for academic evidence of the benefits of BREEAM certification. We came to the conclusion that one of the reasons that there are so many abandoned dissertations on BREEAM is the lack of transparency and evidence base available. Having recently read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, I have a bee in my bonnet about the state of the industry as a whole and evidence based research. Greater transparency will enable those dissertations and papers to be written and then we can all rest happy.

At the UKGBC event transparency was a big issue – especially with scores for each section. Some suggested the certificate should reflect both the score and the rating. The argument was that there is no incentive if a project cannot reach 70% (excellent) to achieve anything more than 55% (very good). So a project which scores 69% is not differentiated from a project which scores 56%.

3. Revisit the BREEAM Business model

The one criticism of BREEAM and BRE which I hear over and over again is that it is a money spinning machine. This criticism may be one reason why the uptake of BREEAM-AP is not as widespread as I expected (see comments below), although timing and the recession won’t have helped (for the record, I was one of the first to do the BREEAM-AP exam – personally I hold it in slightly higher regard than CIBSE’s LCC, but perhaps this is a debate for another day).

At the UKGBC event there was some discontent expressed about BREEAM assessors and more surprisingly BREEAM AP – many people felt that AP was a money making machine for BRE and didn’t guarantee a better design team member. It was also said that assessors lack industry experience to be able to help the design team. Personally I think this comes back to the old chestnut of assessor versus practitioner. For instance, an assessor within a project management company is more likely to identify NEEDs than offer SOLUTIONS (and also not likely to hold PI for design). Buyer beware – which kind of BREEAM professional does your project require?

BRE are proposing a new business model for small projects (no news on what this will be), aligning with TC350 (Europe), possibility of a non-domestic refurb rating (for minor refurb).

Let’s look at the BREEAM business model as it currently stands. Actually, as the numbers I have are from summer 2009, these are slightly out of date, but it will illustrate my point. At that time, there were around 900 qualified BREEAM assessors in the UK in 290 companies generating about £1.1m in registration fees for BRE.

This is a major difference to LEED. LEED makes it’s money from registering projects, rather than licensing assessors. I assume the backroom costs of USGBC dwarf those of BRE.

BREEAM fees goes to pay the administration costs and any profits left over go to BRE Global to do R&D. So far, so good. But what is the burden on the organisations? For each scheme, a licence fee needs to be held whether the firm wishes to undertake one or fifty projects. This in turn leads to the commoditisation of BREEAM, with firms working out it is more cost effective to employ low cost, junior staff, churning out reports, rather than employ experienced practitioners who can offer broad sustainability advice. Aha, we see where the disaffection with BREEAM-AP may have come from?

I’m not sure what the answer to this is. I’m a fan of the LEED model, but this would raise the cost of each project registration. I had hoped that BREEAM-AP would offer the opportunity to differentiate between assessors and advisors/practitioners but I don’t see this happening yet. BREEAM-AP are licensed singly, rather than company wide.

One part of the answer would be automating the BREEAM submission process, much like LEED Online. It amazes me that BRE have not developed an online tool for submission. Of course this would effectively make those 900 assessors redundant and the BRE would be left with a £1.1m hole in its books. We would need 7,500 BREEAM AP’s to generate the equivalent. But then the admin side at BRE might also reduce…

I’m veering towards a BREEAM-AP licence model, slightly more expensive than it currently is, with the abolition of the requirement for assessors to submit reports. Not sure how well this would go down with the rest of the industry though – comments please?


I haven’t covered everything which was covered in the consultation event – for example there is a growing tide of opinion on both materials and embodied carbon. Dan Phillips of Buro Happold covers the embodied energy issue here. Comment was made that BREEAM can divert resources (time and money) away from other sustainable actions which aren’t necessarily covered (eg: LCA, materials, etc). Green Guide transparency (especially uPVC windows) is seen as a major issue – BRE responded that they are trying to get people who originally signed up to confidentiality agreements to agree to publish more data.

A tension exists between listening to market, planning setting requirements (as we know) and pushing forward innovation (BREEAM seems a little lost as where to pitch itself – eg LEED acknowledges it is market led and consensus based). If BRE listened to everyone and came to a consensus, we would probably end up with a diluted tool. There is also a danger in consultations that only the views of the disaffected get reflected.

As we enter this age of austerity, BREEAM will need to adapt to survive. Villain of the hour, Michael Gove has already signalled that BREEAM as a mandatory requirement may not be carried through to whatever schools program survives from BSF.

However, many planning departments already use BREEAM as a ‘shorthand’ for ensuring sustainability on developments. This is likely to continue. Knowing this, BREEAM may have to revisit the evidence requirements and timings of when and what evidence is required.

I look forward to the changes in October…

  • Sustain Ltd

    Re your comment: “But what is the burden on the organisations? For each scheme, a licence fee needs to be held whether the firm wishes to undertake one or fifty projects” my answer is the burden is too much!! The BREEAM licence fees are over £3,000 a year for us and for an organisation doing just a handful for BREEAM assessments a year the business model does not work. The BREEAM licence fees are far higher than any of the other licence fees we have to pay and some of the other schemes include QA fees whereas the BRE charges almost £1,000 QA fees per assessment.

  • Mcdefalt

    I know this is an old post but came across it whilst reading up on something! Your points are seconded, there is some serious work to be done and I worry about the BREEAM business model, the BREEAM team and the arkane attitude of the BRE.

    I worked at the BRE, in BREEAM, and at the time there was a lot of talk about creating a ‘master scheme’ – so you would basically create your own bespoke assessment for every building based on a number of factors – such as building type, size, location, features etc – similar to what you already do when filtering a spreadsheet – this would then generate your bespoke assessment. Just one big manual with all credits in. No need for different schemes. No need for multiple licenses. No need for extortionate bespoke fees. And most importantly – give all the staff that are running and being precious over ‘their’ particular scheme time to work together, research and update the guidance and, moreover, help develop the much needed online tool that can cut some hassle and time out of BREEAM assessments. Sad to say, like everyone good at BRE, they had exciting ideas but went into private consultancy to earn twice as much.

    At the time I was there, of the 15 BREEAM technical consultants (who update, maintain schemes and answer BREEAM queries) 1 had actually done an assessment in the past. 1. Aside from test assessments if its worth mentioning. It is barley believable that these people (lovely people mind) are responsible for an initiative that is rolled out to all corners of the UK and beyond.

    Things need some serious shake up and updating. Really hope there’s some reality and practicality in the updates (now due end of spring apparently).