BREEAM 2011 is the new updated building assessment and certification scheme live from 1 July 2011.  BREEAM has been around for some time but continues to gain importance in line with the wider prominence and relevance to decision-making of environmental and sustainability issues.  These factors can be critical for certain occupiers and investors to meet corporate social responsibility requirements and/or for the financial benefits in terms of whole-life-cost which environmental and sustainable buildings offer.  It is a key factor in public sector projects or public sector funded projects.  Importance to end-users makes it critical for developers, designers and contractors to "take note"; over and above their own corporate policies on sustainable development.

What is BREEAM?

In simple terms BREEAM seeks to quantify and enable mitigation of the environmental impact of new buildings.  BREEAM 2011 deals with new construction or extension of non-domestic buildings, which covers a wide range including offices, retail, civic buildings, health care, etc.  Assessment and certification using different BREEAM manuals can be undertaken for other building types and projects from occupied/unoccupied existing buildings and refurbishment projects.

BREEAM operates a "balanced score card" whereby points in one area can offset a "negative" score in other areas, subject to certain minimum standards around energy, waste, etc.  As the scoring looks at the whole life cycle of the new construction from procurement, design, construction and operation, "points" can be achieved for actions taken by the developer, the design team, the construction activities of the contractor and operation by the end user.

For those unfamiliar with BREEAM or the method of calculation or who simply rely on consultants, the time taken to browse the BREEAM documents (see web access details below) will be of real value.  In addition, for those at the early stage of the project, it is worthwhile using the Pre-Assessment Estimator to give an early "check" of the project.  There are two stages at which assessment and certification can occur: design stage (interim certification) and/or post construction on an "as built " basis.  Clearly, the latter is more robust and it has been known for environmental value engineering changes to occur after an interim certification.

Environmental mitigation v affordability

Historically, one of the key conflicts in sustainable construction has been that of mitigating environmental impact and achieving higher certification against an "affordable" cost plan and "value engineering" eliminating many of the environmental measures at the design stage.  This will always be an issue particularly in speculative developer-led buildings, unless and until it affects investment values through rental, negative assessment at rent review, investors "shunning" less green product, etc.  Marketing materials often highlight the green credentials of new construction but occupiers, investors and advisors need to understand whether it is a design stage certification or post construction "as built" certification which is being "promised" and how much of the score relates to the actual building performance and efficiency as against "wider criteria".

BREEAM scoring

What the BREEAM documents do not do is plug in to the many contracts for procurement of new construction, whether Development Agreements, Agreements for Lease, Appointments, Building Contracts or lease documents themselves.  Simplistic contracting often sees obligations imposed on developers, designers, contractors and even tenants to achieve or comply with a BREEAM rating e.g. Good/Very Good.  One problem with such obligations is the scoring for BREEAM is dependent upon activities related to the developer, e.g. site selection, site remediation, existing transport links, conditions associated with planning conditions (car parking, cycling, etc) and activities which can be influenced or controlled by the design team and/or the contractor and those which will be dependent upon the end user(s).  A BREEAM plug-in tool which provides an interface matrix, identifying the elements which are the responsibility of each party in the procurement of new buildings, would be a welcome addition and increase the effectiveness of the obligations inserted in contracts associated with new construction.  For construction contracts an alternative is to identify those elements from the assessment/calculator which are the responsibility of the designers or contractor and oblige them to meet or exceed the credits identified for those elements taken into account in the overall assessment.

Top ratings

A BREEAM "very good" rating requires a balanced score of 55% which would place a new construct building in (only) the top 25% of buildings.  "Exceptional" would place a new construction in the top 10% and "Outstanding" in the top 1%.  One challenge for BREEAM is how to drive a greater proportion of new construction to achieving exceptional or outstanding.  This is also a challenge for those involved in new construction, but until occupiers or investors make it a "must have" not "nice to have", the cost plan will remain a major barrier and "exploitation" of the balanced score-card will remain relevant.

To access BREEAM 2011 Resources go to click here (registration/log-in required).