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Defending BREEAM (again)

by Mel Starrs on February 1, 2012


In ‘news’ that isn’t new (see my blogpost back in May), Micheal Gove is threatening to remove BREEAM for Schools as a mandatory funding requirement from the son of BSF. Why the industry has waited until 2 weeks before the announcement before making a kerfuffle over this, I don’t know.

Anyway, UKGBC have written a letter to Gove (a pdf of it can be found on Constructing Excellence website). This has kicked off a number of further letters and then discussions on blogs and twitter where actual debate seems to have left town, and we’re reduced to picking sides. Grow up everyone. Stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater and take a good hard look at what we’re left with if Gove succeeds.

Yes, BREEAM is bureaucratic, process oriented and expensive. In my opinion it should never be used as a planning requirement, but I did see some value in using it as a funding requirement when PFI was involved (PFI not particularly well known delivering anything over and above what is demanded of it). Back in 2005 when BSF began, the regulatory landscape was a little bereft of sustainability pegs to hang things on.

The blog which wound me up the most was Amanda’s piece in the BD (£). Indeed, it must have wound up the (slightly zealous) firewall at work too, as for a while I couldn’t see it. Of course it’s Amanda’s job to sell BD and she knows what makes good copy. But I’m sorry, my job is to deliver BREEAM projects and whilst I agree with her on some points, she misses the mark entirely on others.

The main gripe Amanda (and quite a few people on twitter) have is the monopoly of the BRE:

But if Gove does get rid of Breeam (sic) – and there’s no knowing whether he will – the most noticeable impact will be on the BRE’s profits. The research agency, which has a monopoly on training Breeam consultants, turned over £27 million in 2010. It charges a licence to use its software, and is responsible for the very high fees charged by consultants who operate the system.

This is the point that gets brought up again and again. I can’t (and I won’t) defend it. As one of the ‘high fee’ (ha!) consultants, I resent having to shell out for training on BREEAM (especially when I managed to get my LEED-AP without having to pay a single cent for a training course). But I can’t operate without the training, the licence, the assessment fees…

Is there an appetite for a non-profit making scheme, industry developed and lead? Oh wait – that would be LEED. Which we could use in the UK (and have done). So why no exodus to LEED? Ever compared LEED fees to BREEAM fees – think that’s part of the answer…

So where do I disagree with Amanda? She makes the cardinal sin of confusing BREEAM (broad sustainability) with energy and carbon savings. People, would you please STOP DOING THIS. BREEAM has one energy section out of a total of nine.

It is also worth remembering that Gove isn’t gifted with ‘getting rid’ of BREEAM. BREEAM will still exist for as long as BRE are able to eke out demand. Their courting of planning authorities has guaranteed continuing work for some time (although the effect of the NPPF is yet to be determined. I’m not a fan of BREEAM as a planning requirement as I have said before – but I think that’s a whole other blogpost).

Where I think BREEAM has been most successful is in influencing contractor practices on-site. I doubt WRAP alone would have managed to change contractor behaviour in the way that BREEAM has.

I know BREEAM isn’t perfect. I’ve written about it on here often enough. It may well be that BREEAM has done its time and the world has moved on. But I don’t believe we’re at a point yet where a ‘lowest price’ (D&B, PFI etc etc) contract will deliver a ‘sustainable’ building through regulations alone. I want to be able to say ‘my work here is done’ before I walk away from BREEAM. Throw away BREEAM now and we’ll likely be left with cheap, adequate buildings…

That’s not to say James’ recommendations weren’t valid. What schools need is a simple framework, with watertight clear intentions, perhaps self certifed in the same way NEAT worked. Perhaps Gove has already commissioned this work and will pull it out of the hat when he lays the deathblow to BREEAM but I’m not holding my breath.