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For 25 years, BREEAM has challenged the construction industry to do better, driving improvements in standards in all areas which have led to regulatory change.

For 25 years BREEAM has challenged the construction industry to do better, driving improvements in standards in all areas which have led to regulatory change. 

BREEAM is celebrating its 25th birthday this year and throughout its existence the standard has been at the leading edge of the debate driving innovation and change in the design, construction and operation of our buildings. It has evolved over time to reach beyond the building and into the wider built environment and look at the whole range of sustainability-related and wellbeing impacts which developments have on users and the surroundings. Because the standard has always gathered and incorporated global best practice it has naturally influenced policy, regulation, standards and industry practices both in the UK and overseas, and many standards have been created as a direct result. Encouraging construction to think about how it can improve, whether it is resource efficiency, life cycle impacts, health and wellbeing or a host of other factors, has been followed in many cases by Building Regulations driving efficiency via a compliance route.

However having influenced regulations and established new norms, BREEAM moves on to further push standards beyond the mandatory. This allows it to continue driving change higher performance and quality outcomes as it matures. In future this will enable emergent drivers like BIM to be factored in, without BREEAM becoming unwieldy.

BREEAM also seeks to incorporate more as it matures and to relate better to industry processes such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) yet not become unwieldy

Many best practice and standards over the last 25 years can trace their formulation directly back to BREEAM. Examples include:

  • Sustainable timber: BREEAM always encouraged designers and specifiers to demand sustainable timber, including an audit trail as proof. The earliest versions of the standard pre-dated FSC certification which has in turn influenced responsible sourcing of other materials.
  • Domestic smoke alarms: The first BREEAM New Homes (BR208) launched in 1991 contained a credit for mains operated smoke alarms and this became a Building Regulation requirement in the following update of Approved Document Part B.
  • Water saving devices: By awarding credits for incorporation of water saving products and methodologies into projects, BREEAM has helped drive their widespread adoption. These include dual flush and low flush volume devices, rainwater harvesting, the Part G water calculator, and SuDS systems and approaches.
  • Emissions from insulation and board products: The first BREEAM Offices and all versions of BREEAM itself raised awareness of formaldehyde content in -3-board products and resins and influenced the switch from urea formaldehyde foam insulation to healthier materials.
  • Domestic recycling: The first BREEAM New Homes (1991) included a credit for provision of space for bins to store recyclable materials.
  • Cycling: BREEAM introduced credits for cycle storage facilities in the first update of BREEAM Offices (BR 234) 1993Some factors listed in early published versions of BREEAM could not be addressed at the time in the standard itself but stimulated specific BRE research which led to them being included in later versions. Examples include embodied energy ratings of materials, from the Green Guide to Specification, weighting issues according to relative importance, and development of Life Cycle Assessment techniques.

BREEAM in a BIM world

Building Information Modelling and the processes that surround it can create reliable, consistent and transferable data through design and construction and into the operation of buildings and other assets. This digital model can then interact with other modelling – such as energy models allowing better predictions of performance and so greatly contribute to closing the now well recognised gap between design intentions and performance in use.

BREEAM is approaching this in two ways; firstly to interact and collect data from the BIM which will both increase efficiency for the BREEAM process and make “doing BREEAM” fit more seamlessly into what has to be done anyway to create a building. Secondly, in using BIM data in this way and combining it with other models and algorithms BREEAM can contribute enormously to the data analysis required to help answer the question “where exactly does the performance fail?”

Harnessing data for standards in a deregulated future

We face a dual question in the future, firstly how do we turn the data which is increasingly generated from buildings into best practice? We commission a lot of research to develop best practice in keeping BREEAM up to date and at the leading edge as well as harnessing best practice from across the world. As digital data derived from the BREEAM process begins to give us a much better idea of building performance, we are also in an environment of increasingly open data allowing us to truly address the challenge of better understanding how the industry is moving and making it more transparent, and so help us to understand what best practice looks like.

As data begins to give us a much better idea of building performance, the challenge is to supplement that research with openly available data to better understand how the industry is moving and make it transparent to help it understand what best practice looks like.

Raw data will never replace investigative research but it is the fuel for quantitative research. Both are necessary. We always want to be ahead of the curve so there will always be design and techniques which will need to be discovered. For example as lighting systems develop, they may produce more efficient light but there are nuanced issues which require detailed research to support decisions in standard-making. Asbestos is an extreme example which shows the need for research, but hindsight is unfortunately less useful.

The second major question for the future is that we are looking at an increasingly deregulated landscape in the UK for the construction industry. Can the industry effectively self-regulate and what is the role of BREEAM in supporting this? What is the ultimate goal, is it just about setting minimum standards, or is the industry going to arrive at a mature position where it can work in a more joined up, collaborative and cooperative way, sharing best practice to work as a whole to generate tough but achievable standards ? This will mean funding necessary research and having transparency of data. The industry needs to work together to ensure that quality is balanced against quantity of delivery across the board, and the only way to ensure that is to work to robust  standards.

The trick to a successful standard is to not make it too expensive or complex such that it creates an unnecessary burden, and we know that we are always driving value by ensuring BREEAM works for the industry. We also have to continually look into the future to make sure that emerging best practice which isn’t apparent across the construction sector is included in the scheme. In this way we encourage people to think about not what they are required to be doing, but what they should be doing.