Last edited 30 Jul 2019

BREEAM Misconceptions

Contents

[edit] Introduction

The lack of available seats at the Sustainability lecture area at London Build (October 2018) is a testament to the fact that sustainability is no longer a niche subject for the nerdy few. But how well does the construction industry understand sustainability and some of its key mechanisms such as BREEAM?

BREEAM Advisory Professionals (APs) and Assessors know that misconceptions abound, partly due to the fact that this is a complex subject. Busy construction professionals may have in-depth knowledge about specific strategies because of prior project experience, but still lack a wider perspective about how the pieces fit together. Larger contractors may have a better understanding of BREEAM and sustainability than smaller companies simply because they can afford to take on a specialist division.

Commonly held misconceptions can derail the sustainability mission of a project, especially those related to cost. At the same time it is important to acknowledge when complaints about the processes required by BREEAM and other certifications (LEED, Passivhaus, etc) create genuine barriers to achieving sustainability. Weeding out the misconceptions and addressing them is therefore an important step towards understanding how to remove systemic sustainability barriers so we can see the kind of take up in this sector that will be necessary in the years to come.

One thing that we can agree on is that not enough owners voluntarily put sustainability at the front of their projects. It is the job of enlightened practitioners to work together with our standards and certifications partners as well as our clients to keep pushing the industry forward so that sustainable certification becomes desirable and isn’t done just because it’s required.

[edit] Methodology

[edit] Misconceptions about BREEAM/Sustainability

Participants in the workshop identified the following seven common misconceptions:

1. The BREEAM Assessor/AP can be added after Concept stage: The sustainability consultant is often appointed after other key consultant parties as an “add on”. However, correctly defined sustainability objectives should be part of the project brief and often cannot be tagged on at a later stage.

2. The stakeholder team will get on board with certification without a properly written set of Employer’s Requirements: Employers set the agenda. Even when the driver is planning permission or distant corporate benchmarking, the employer should be clear about the sustainability goals to ensure that all parties are on board.

3. Sustainability/BREEAM can be added to rather than embedded into the project: Similar to the issue of adding the sustainability consultant late into the process, adding sustainability rather than designing it in from the start increases costs and reduces buy-in from all parties

4. BREEAM is a box-ticking exercise: Clients will often target a particular certification level, without providing guidance as to the key sustainability goals they want to achieve. This can lead to a points-driven exercise that undermines the chance to achieve real value for the project. Busy professionals jump straight to requirements and responsibilities and don’t take the time to understand the underlying values.

5. Cost of sustainability is too high: Some projects with particular issues may struggle with added costs, especially if the initial design and specification are far from achieving BREEAM goals, but BREEAM is meant to be a “best fit” concept which is why lower certification levels exist - sometimes it is simply a case of fitting the correct sustainability specification to the project and budget constraints.

See points 1 and 3: starting certification late into the design process adds cost and stress, due to missed opportunities and easy wins early on. Good planning is fundamental to keeping costs reasonable, as in any aspect of budget control.

BREEAM undeniably adds another process to the project balance sheet. However BREEAM professionals can usually advise on a value-driven pathway to sustainability and may save the owner money in helping to target a pathway that is best fit for the project goals.

Key investments such as energy saving rely on greater up-front cost in order to create later benefits. However the industry has not historically linked project cost and operational cost and is struggling to do so even now. This is something the industry must address in order to see faster progress in the take up of sustainability certifications. We asked if many of the BREEAM professionals had been involved in a value assessment of the sustainability aspects of their projects and most replied in the negative. If the team don’t understand the positive financial impacts of sustainability investments in terms of future asset security, occupant health and operational savings, they may consider strategies only in terms of negative cost and complexity.

BREEAM 2018 has set the goalposts higher, requiring more “suitably qualified” professionals to complete some of the credits. Some of the standards have also been raised in order to push the market now that a majority of BREEAM projects are achieving high certification levels. Certainly the first owners to take up the 2018 challenge may baulk at the extra costs and there is some indication that some are doing so; however creating more transparent standards can also help the industry normalise these goals.

6. A “good” rating is nothing to be proud of - its “very good” or better or nothing: While on the face of it, it should be welcomed that owners want to set their sights high, achieving a very high BREEAM rating can simply be unachievable under strict time and cost budgets, or for other reasons. Very high certification levels, it can be argued, should be achievable only for the top projects seeking certification. If this means that owners would rather skip the rating than risk a “good” result then perhaps there is a misunderstanding of the meaning of the rating, or perhaps BRE needs to rethink the naming of rating levels in order to respect the motivational drivers in the industry.

7. Certification process is expected to be complete at handover: This could be less misunderstood when certification becomes more common and more owners have experience; however it is probably also true that the certification industry needs to get better at informing owners clearly about the process, especially when it concerns owner’s key objectives and drivers.

[edit] Other comments

Participants also commented on some difficulties of the recently-released BREEAM UK New Construction 2018. In the update to BREEAM’s 2014 version, there is a greater emphasis on specialist consultants and on completion of specific activities during Concept phase, when some sustainability teams may not be on board yet. While the larger team may increase expertise, they noted it will also increase costs.

Another issue is the amount of documentation required for certification. Though BRE has emphasised that most documentation should be a product of normal project administration, there is a greater reliance in the 2018 version on specially-prepared reports that some felt, fell short of providing value and utility for projects. There is a danger that BREEAM could be perceived to be more about process than outcomes.

A smaller number felt that some flexibility has been lost in the current scheme, which may take some teams further from sustainable concepts and risk increasing the tendency to tick boxes.

Finally the length of time to achieve certification is felt to have increased perhaps at a time when this process should become more streamlined to accommodate a wider market take-up. These insights will hopefully be shared with BRE to ensure that BREEAM continues to set the agenda for sustainability in the construction sector.

Compiled and edited by Melissa Merryweather

--Multiple Author Article 12:35, 15 Jan 2019 (BST)


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