Sustainability has never been more vital than it is today, which is why an environmental assessment is an integral stage of any building project.
In many cases, local authorities are now making sustainability assessments a mandatory requirement, so it’s important to understand how sustainability ratings are evaluated and calculated.
The most comprehensive environmental assessment is the BREEAM certification.
In this article, we explain what BREEAM certification is, how buildings are assessed for sustainability, and how your project can achieve a ‘BREEAM excellent’ rating.
What Is the BREEAM Rating System?
The BREEAM rating system is designed to provide a measure of a building’s environmental performance, taking into account important factors such as energy consumption, construction materials and environmental impact.
BREEAM is an independent, third-party rating system which can be applied to individual buildings, construction and infrastructure projects and wider communities.
‘BREEAM’ stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method and the rating system was first implemented in the UK in the 1990s. Although it was originally a voluntary assessment, local government authorities and councils now regularly use the system to assess a building project’s overall sustainability.
Since it was first developed, the BREEAM rating system has become the foremost international rating system. An Excellent BREEAM accreditation is highly desirable, demonstrating that a building project is sustainable and has minimised its effect on the surrounding environment.
This not only helps architects and developers obtain building regulations approval, but it impacts the world more positively.
The BREEAM rating system provides a building with an overall score based on certain factors. These are:
- Health and wellbeing
- Land usage
The BREEAM assessment is carried out by an accredited BREEAM Assessor, who provides a benchmarked percentage score and an overall BREEAM rating for a building.
The ratings are broken down into six classifications, based on the overall percentage score provided:
- Outstanding (minimum 85%)
- Excellent (minimum 70%)
- Very Good (minimum 55%)
- Good (minimum 45%)
- Pass (minimum 30%)
- Unclassified (less than 30%)
The highest possible BREEAM accreditation is an Outstanding score, which can only be achieved through a pass mark of 85% or above. The minimum score needed to pass the accreditation is 30%. Below this, a building will be unclassified, meaning they are not accredited by the BREEAM rating system.
How Are Buildings Rated Through BREEAM?
BREEAM is an independent measure of sustainability, and that means a building can only be assessed by a qualified and impartial BREEAM Assessor. This ensures that BREEAM’s high standards are met, while providing the measure with a level of integrity that’s recognised internationally.
An independent BREEAM Assessor generally carries out two separate assessments of a building.
First, they’ll provide a measure of sustainability during the Design Stage of a construction project, and a certain level of accreditation may be required for planning applications to be approved. The second stage of assessment is carried out after the building has been built, providing a final measure of sustainability and highlighting areas for future improvement.
Throughout both stages of assessment, a BREEAM Assessor primarily focuses on ten distinct areas of sustainability in order to arrive at a final BREEAM accreditation score.
BREEAM accreditation takes into account energy efficiency. This means looking at which energy sources are going to be used throughout the building’s lifespan, how much energy a building is going to waste and how energy efficiency can be improved. A BREEAM Assessor will also look at how much carbon output a building is likely to generate and how this might be reduced.
The management of a project is incredibly important and BREEAM looks at how management teams work towards reaching sustainability goals. BREEAM provides an assessment of management policies in relation to the environment and best sustainability practices at every stage, from design through to completion.
BREEAM accreditation takes into account how much water a project is going to consume. This is measured in terms of the water needed to build and the water needed to sustain a building while it is being used. BREEAM assesses overall water usage and water waste, as well as water management policies.
BREEAM Assessors examine how much waste is going to be produced as a result of the construction project. This takes into account the waste produced during the construction phase and the waste that’s likely to be generated after it is complete. The ultimate goal is to reduce waste as much as possible and projects are marked accordingly on their ability to do this.
A project should minimise the level of pollutants it releases into the surrounding environment. BREEAM measures the total pollutants that a project will release throughout its lifespan, with the goal being to minimise pollution and, if possible, remove the potential for pollution entirely.
- Health and Wellbeing
A BREEAM assessment doesn’t only look at the physical qualities of a building but takes into account the health and wellbeing of the people who will live or work inside it. The health and wellbeing category measures important factors including health and safety, evacuation procedures, ventilation and light levels.
BREEAM assesses the sustainability of materials that have been used in a building’s construction and any materials that may be needed for future maintenance. The aim is to promote sustainable design and this takes into account the type and source of materials used and how they are used.
BREEAM accreditation takes into account how a project is connected to sustainable modes of transport. The aim is to promote integration into existing public transport networks, thereby reducing carbon emissions and improving the overall sustainability of a project.
- Land Usage
BREEAM looks at the impact a project has on the surrounding land, ensuring that land use is sustainable. This category looks at whether a site is brownfield or greenfield and it assesses the impact that a project will have on existing wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
The final category for assessment is innovation. This broad category examines how a project goes beyond the norm to achieve sustainability. BREEAM Assessors will take into account innovative new designs and systems that are being used and developed in order to improve the overall sustainability of a building or community.
What Is BREEAM Excellent?
BREEAM Excellent is one of the highest accreditations that can be awarded to a building or project through the rating system. A BREEAM Excellent certification is one of the best benchmarks to aim for, demonstrating that a project is sustainable and environment-friendly in design and operation.
BREEAM estimates that only around 10% of assessments are given the coveted Excellent award. A higher benchmark than Excellent is Outstanding, but this is much more difficult to achieve. BRE estimates that less than 1% of projects achieve this status and this level of certification is reserved for industry innovators.
How Do You Achieve BREEAM Excellent?
BREEAM Excellent is the most sought after accreditation.
The first step in gaining Excellent accreditation is to appoint a dedicated BREEAM Assessor to oversee your application. A BREEAM Assessor will hold the BREEAM accredited Assessor qualification, and they have the skills, knowledge and license necessary to carry out the accreditation process on your building or project.
In order to be awarded the BREEAM Excellent status, an application must receive a minimum score of 70%. This percentage is calculated from the number of ‘credits’ that a building is awarded. Each of the different categories, such as waste or water, has a total number of possible credits attached to it. The overall score is calculated based on the number of credits scored in each category.
To achieve BREEAM Excellent, a building must demonstrate its sustainability credentials across the entire range of categories, not just in one single area. However, certain categories are given higher weightings than others and this is based on what is deemed to be most essential in terms of sustainability. This weighting can vary depending on whether a building is residential or commercial.
Important areas of the BREEAM assessment to focus on for a BREEAM Excellent certification are:
Energy accounts for the largest weighting in the BREEAM accreditation assessment. The percentage of points awarded in the energy category is up to 22.5%.
Energy efficiency is required for Building Regulations approval, so this is an area that should be prioritised from the initial design stage. To achieve maximum credits in the energy category a building needs to demonstrate that it is limiting its energy output, and thereby limiting its carbon footprint, through the use of energy saving measures.
The use of renewable energy such as solar PV and energy saving measures, like insulation, are key to achieving a high score in the energy category.
Incorporate Sustainable Materials into the Design
A significant proportion of credits are also weighted towards the materials used in a construction project. It is important that a building incorporates sustainable materials into its design.
An assessor will start by looking at the materials used in construction. Recycled materials and materials that could be recycled again in the future secure more points. Materials that will last longer and materials that are non-polluting are considered to have an added sustainability factor.
An assessor will consider where the materials have been sourced, what their carbon footprint is and if they are local materials or not.
Innovation Is Key
To achieve BREEAM Outstanding, innovation credits will be necessary. Innovation accounts for as much as 10% of the available credits and it can be the difference between Excellent and Outstanding.
Innovation is a subjective concept but credits will be awarded for unique designs. For example, projects that use unusual materials or trial energy saving measures.
We have been assessing buildings using BREEAM for 16 years and are experts in BREEAM certification.
Our experienced team of consultants are licensed to carry out independent BREEAM assessments and have the expertise and knowledge to ensure projects meet their sustainability requirements. To find out more, visit our BREEAM Hub.
Our sustainability specialists work to identify areas for improvement and work collaboratively with design teams on a range of different projects in order to ensure their environmental impact is minimised.
If you need sustainability assistance, call us on 01730 710044.