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Is it March already?

It is fair to say that we are living in uncertain times. With so many unanswered questions and an economy that is on a knife-edge, it would be all too easy for us to batten down the hatches.

It is fair to say that we are living in uncertain times. With so many unanswered questions and an economy that is on a knife-edge, it would be all too easy for us to batten down the hatches and wait to see what happens. I believe this is wrong. It is essential that as an industry we continue to evolve, drive, inspire and support each other to ensure that we improve. In addition, we also need to learn from the lessons of how we have approached various challenges in the past and make sure that whatever our future, we are ready for it.

As we start to consider and engage the industry around both the update for BREEAM new construction in the UK but also BREEAM In Use for existing non-domestic buildings (Internationally), as well as updates to Refurbishment and Fit Out (UK and International) and a full roll out of HQM in Scotland and Wales, it makes you think what a busy year we have ahead.

Robust and consistent but flexible to recognise creativity

The more innovative/leading designers want flexibility to do what they want to do, the more they push the boundaries of creative architecture. All too often aesthetic design can be prioritised over building performance – we need to understand that there is place for both.

This is one of the reasons why CEEQUAL, the evidence-based sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme for civil engineering, takes a largely process based approach as it was very much guided by delivery and function rather than design. However many clients don’t like the lack of quantification in CEEQUAL. BREEAM has the biggest appeal with clients, funders, occupiers and regulators as they are the ones who benefit most, (although we should discard the supply chain of architects and contractors who strive to deliver exceptional buildings) and they have always asked for a rating to reflect actual quantifiable performance and hence comparability between assets. There is a conflict here that is a continual challenge to deal with.

Scheme Robustness and 3rd party certification

We are often challenged by the industry about the level of evidence required and this is something that we thought long and hard about. Our current (New Construction) approach does not specify formats for most evidence and allows normal design information to be used but in reality many assessors (and actually design teams as well) still work with ‘tried and tested’ evidence solutions that are often additional.

We are hungry to continue to make the role of the assessor more efficient, but it is important for the scheme that we continue to provide robust evidence to maintain the brand and support the assessor. As we start to map out the nature of the 2018 NC scheme, we are considering the potential for introducing an Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) route as an option for more innovative solutions as well as options for demonstrating compliance with standard BREEAM criteria. This is a direct result of discussions from the industry and very constructive conversations with the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) as we mapped BREEAM and the WELL Building Standard (WELL) to make dual certification easier for the industry.

It would be good to allow this approach in other instances if we can find a practical and cost effective way of doing so as this will allow more innovative designers to demonstrate the value of their design solutions. Our proposed materials approach for NC 2018 will move in this direction. However, being very open to ideas from the industry fundamentally changes the relationship between technical review and the QA process.

Closing the gap

One of the key issues which we are keen to explore further with the industry and have been discussing with Better Building Partnership and its members, and is very much the elephant in the room, is performance in use. There have been some great models across the world, which we can learn from particularly, NABERS – a national rating system that measures the environmental performance of Australian buildings, tenancies and homes.

Our current proposed approach is to adopt a voluntary verification stage that includes energy and possibly a few other performance metrics. This will allow us to scope the current NC update and may provide a solution to this.

One interesting suggestion which arose from a coffee with a colleague, is knowing how buildings change (in various ways) from design to construction to occupancy and can we create a measure to manage this uncertainty. It’s like assuming your brand new car will operate as efficiently in five years’ time as the day you drove it out of the garage. Things have a tendency to move to a higher state of disorder over time (second law of thermodynamics) – insulation, glass, bricks etc. all degrade and so does their performance. I know that we will do more in this space, but welcome industry input to ensure that clients get the buildings they want, designers/modellers are rewarded for comprehensive approach that some undertaken to manage any uncertainty.

As I mentioned at the start, 2017 is going to be busy, but also presents us with opportunities to align our New Construction scheme with BREEAM In Use to support continual improvement.