Last edited 03 Oct 2017

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Comparing the fit between BREEAM assessment and design processes

By Dr Libby Schweber, University of Reading, UK.

Published in Building Research & Information, Vol.42, No.3, pp. 300-317, 2014.


This paper explores the mapping of environmental assessment onto design and construction processes. A comparative case study method is used to identify and account for variations in the ‘fit’ between these two processes. The analysis compares eight BREEAM projects and distinguishes project-level characteristics and dynamics. Drawing on insights from literature on sustainable construction and assessment methods, an analytic framework is developed to examine the effect of clusters of project and assessment level elements on different types of fit (tight, punctual and bolt-on).

Key elements distinguishing between these types include: prior working experience with project team members; individual commitment to sustainable construction; experience with sustainable construction; project continuity; project-level ownership of the assessment process as well as the nature and continuity of involvement from assessors. Professionals with experience of sustainability judiciously used BREEAM to support their designs, alongside other frameworks. By contrast, less committed professionals tended to treat BREEAM purely as an assessment method.

The study suggests that more attention should be paid to individual levels of engagement with, and understanding of, sustainability in general - rather than to knowledge of technical solutions to individual credits. More focus should also be placed on ownership of the assessment process and on the potential effect that discontinuities – or interruptions - at the project level can have on sustainable design.

This paper won the Merit Award in the 2014 CIOB Research Paper Award.

The judge's said, “This paper clearly demonstrates how research can reveal the wide variation between formal intent and informal application in the use of environment assessment tools. It points towards the complexity of situations where the BREEAM assessment tool is applied, and demonstrates the differing motivations of individuals in the enactment of BREEAM certification. The work is strongly argued with a good critical analysis, and also shows an excellent use of qualitative data from case studies.”