Katie Townley, a Sustainability Consultant and qualified BREEAM Assessor, explains some of the benefits of BREEAM and how it will continue to play a vital role in the futures sustainability of the built environment.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) defines BREEAM ((Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) as: “The leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings and communities. It sets the standard for best practice in sustainable design and has become the de facto measure used to describe a building’s environmental performance”.

Climate change studies have significantly enlightened and influenced leading authorities to react and take immediate action to minimise further impacts to the environment. In recent years, the value of sustainable buildings has been the focus of a range of industries. Through global climate change awareness, the demand for sustainable buildings has increased, legislation has developed, building regulations are more rigid and a reduction in carbon emissions through the specification of renewables is now mandatory in many locations in the United Kingdom.

BREEAM was introduced in 1990 and has developed significantly since. It provides a foundation for sustainable buildings which can be flexible and encourages sustainable methods from an early stage in a development. It also prolongs a building’s life cycle and emphasises the importance of health and wellbeing to building users through its occupation.

Publications have sought to quantify the value of BREEAM environmentally, socially and economically to varying stakeholders including developers, owners and tenants. Environmental Benefits BREEAM, which comprises ten categories, seeks to reduce the impact a building has on the environment through the early design and development stages, construction stage and the building’s life span. Sites are predominantly pre-determined and chosen prior to the appointment of a BREEAM assessor.

Unfortunately, this does not necessarily favour the ecology category of BREEAM, especially if a greenfield site of high ecological value is selected. With the inclusion of mandatory credits, for example credit ‘LE 03 — Minimising Impact on Existing Site Ecology’ (where one credit is mandatory to achieve a ‘Very Good’ rating or above), BREEAM ensures that some, it not all, species are protected or reinstated into a design producing a neutral or low change in the ecological value between the pre- and post-development site.

This ensures that impacts to the existing ecology are minimised with the ultimate aim to promote and enhance site ecology, hence supporting ecologists and environmental groups to protect the environment. During the construction of a building, BREEAM encourages to minimise the amount of waste produced on site by requiring the contractor to develop a Resource Management Plan. BREEAM provides baseline targets, with contractors monitoring and recording waste quantities, thus reducing the impact that the development has on the environment. The credit promotes resource efficiency and encourages the contractor to re-use and recycle materials that are already on site. This way, the cost in relation to the quantity of materials ordered and waste transfer is minimised.

A life-cycle cost analysis to estimate the overall costs of project alternatives and to select an appropriate design is a credit that can significantly influence the sustainability of a building. This ensures the facility will provide the lowest overall cost of ownership consistent with its quality and function. The life cycle of materials, including the activities that go into making, transporting, using and disposing of that product is considered. The life cycle analysis for materials consists of a series of stages running from the extraction of raw materials, through design and formulation, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, use, re-use, recycling and waste disposal.

Under credits ‘Man 02 Life Cycle Cost and Service Life Planning’ and ‘Mat 03 Responsible Sourcing of Materials’ BREEAM promotes the responsible sourcing of materials through careful design and analysis with an aim of increasing the durability and therefore lifespan of a building. Social Benefits The benefits of a sustainable building, influenced by BREEAM and other leading rating systems including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), can be seen widely by employees working within rated buildings.

The standards under BREEAM help to ensure good indoor air quality, adequate lighting and daylighting levels, and thermal comfort, which enhances occupant satisfaction. As an example of the impact such factors can have, research by the World Green Building Council states that better indoor air quality can help improve staff productivity levels by as much as 8-11%. In addition to employee benefits, evidence shows that the benefits can have a significant implication for employers as staff absenteeism levels are believed to be lower.

Research has also suggested that a BREEAM-rated building increases a company’s industry standing. Companies with a higher market standing typically have lower operating costs and essentially could mean a better investment choice. Furthermore, occupying a sustainable building contributes to the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda and also generates positive publicity.

Economic Benefits Publications have confirmed that a BREEAM-rated building reduces the operating and refurbishment costs for landlords, suggesting lower running costs and slower depreciation rates. Energy efficient lighting levels, efficient heating systems, energy efficient equipment and low water consuming components are some of the credits targeted as part of a BREEAM assessment that collaborate to minimise costs. Growing research has also shown that sales and rental costs for BREEAM-rated buildings are higher and people are more likely to pay higher prices for less vulnerable sustainable buildings. Increasingly building ratings and certifications are viewed as a mark of quality and attractiveness. Essentially, this suggests quicker sales, increased occupancy rates and lower exit yields, thus benefitting developers and landlords.

A study carried out by Maastricht University for RICS (Supply, Demand and the Value of Green Buildings) compares similar buildings with and without BREEAM certification across England and Wales. The results show that higher rentals are achieved by BREEAM-certified buildings. However, this could be influenced by economic conditions at the time of the lease or sale. To conclude, recent publications have expressed the benefits of BREEAM and the opinions and challenges related to achieve a BREEAM-rated building.

With the increased awareness of global climate change influencing attitudes and legislation, the demand for sustainable buildings has and is expected to increase. BREEAM continues to develop with legislation whilst taking in to account the views and opinions of stakeholders.

At GreenBuild Consult, our objective is to improve the built environment and create sustainable buildings that meet the needs of clients in the most practical and cost effective manner. We will continue to meet this objective in line with the changing regulations and continue to take a proactive approach by informing clients and stakeholders of the benefits  of sustainable buildings.