BREEAM comes of age

More than 200,000 buildings have been certified and one million registered for certification since the BREEAM schemes were launched 21 years ago. Now BREEAM is being updated.

The first BREEAM scheme was launched in 1990 to help mitigate the impacts of building development on the environment. By September 1991 schemes covering homes, superstores and offices had been produced. Now BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method – is the most widely used environmental assessment type for buildings in the world and there are BREEAM versions for most major building types – and a bespoke scheme for assessing all others.

One key feature of BREEAM has been the regular updates of its methodology and assessment criteria. This has accelerated over the last ten years, with biennial revisions enabling it to set new standards in sustainability and ensure that the scheme continues to drive innovation in sustainable building design and construction.

BRE Global began work on revising and updating the BREEAM 2008 UK version in the spring of 2010. A key part of this exercise has been a wide consultation with BREEAM users and specifiers, assessors and other industry stakeholders.

"The feedback we have received from individuals and organisations has been essential in shaping not only the update of the UK scheme, but also our thinking on our longer-term direction,' says BRE Global's chief executive, Carol Atkinson.

One of the key features of BREEAM 2011 is the consolidation of the separate BREEAM scheme technical guides for different building types into one concise scheme and guide for new buildings. This new version is known as 'BREEAM New Construction' and will be used to assess all new buildings, using a common framework of 49 assessment issues: separate BREEAM initiatives are focussing on buildings that are in use or being refurbished.

Its development has included the re-classification of a number of the BREEAM environmental assessment issues – of which there were around 100 – to ensure a more efficient flexible methodology that focuses on the key issues and complies with BRE Global's Code for a Sustainable Built Environment. As a result, several of the issues have been consolidated into a smaller number of re-focused categories. Taking just one example, in the 'Health and wellbeing' section, there were a number of separate credits and issues in the area of daylight and comfort. These have been consolidated into a single issue called 'Visual comfort' that covers aspects of day-lighting, glare control and view out. When consolidating the schemes, BRE Global has taken care to ensure that, where relevant, key building specific assessment criteria and standards remain. For example, the acoustic performance criteria and credits for schools are different to those for offices. This ensures that BREEAM maintains its flexibility and ability to recognise the different functions – and therefore performance levels – that different building types are designed and constructed to achieve.

The key date in the 2011 update is 1 July, when BREEAM New Construction goes live and will be the scheme used to assess all new UK buildings registered with BRE Global from that date. An online version of the BREEAM 2011 New Construction Technical Manual (SD5073 – 1.0:2011) is available at A programme of BREEAM New Construction assessor training courses will start from mid-July.


Improvements made partly in response to stakeholder feedback have included the introduction of a greater post-construction, 'aftercare' element.

"The consultation revealed widespread concern that buildings were being designed with various sustainability features," said Tim Bevan, UK non-domestic team manager at BRE. "But without any certainty that occupiers would be able to effectively operate or interact with them. Developing a sustainable building should include effective aftercare support to enable and encourage the sustainable operation of the building by those who take it over."

Part L

Changes have also been made in the BREEAM 2011 version to take account of the updated Part L Conservation of Energy extract from building regulations. One of the more fundamental of these is the approach to assessing energy and carbon dioxide emissions.

This was previously based on performance in terms of CO2 emissions alone, using the CO2 index that generates EPC ratings. The new scheme again makes use of outputs from the Simplified Buildings Energy Model and a single benchmark performance, but this will be determined by three aspects of building performance.

These are:

  • the energy demand of the building – the quantity of energy that is required to operate the building as modelled using SBEM is compared with the 'notional building' performance used to determine building regulations compliance
  • the building's consumption as modelled – the efficiency with which the energy demand is met compared with the notional building
  • the resulting modelled CO2 emissions – the CO2 and other greenhouse gasses generated from energy use compared with the notional building.

The scheme's methodology examines these three aspects and awards credits accordingly.

BREEAM 2011's energy assessment includes minimum standards for achieving BREEAM ratings as did BREEAM 2008, which are linked to percentage improvements over building regulations requirements. The minimum standard for an 'excellent' rating, for example, is six energy credits – this requires a performance that equates to a 25% improvement over building regulations.

In addition, up to five BREEAM Innovation credits are available to buildings demonstrating that they either:

  • achieve net zero carbon status and generate a proportion of their unregulated energy demands ie process energy from carbon neutral sources, or
  • are 'carbon negative' – ie they generate and export more carbon neutral energy than required to meet the building's regulated and unregulated energy demand

UK sustainable building performance

"One of the key things that we are also aiming to do to ensure that we have a methodology that will enable us, through the assessment and certification process, to gather and keep performance data about buildings in the UK," said Bevan, "and make these available through Green Book Live."

BREEAM 2011 will allow for far more key performance data about UK buildings to be gathered. At present Green Book Live provides information on whether a building is BREEAM certified and, if so, what the rating is. The aim in future is to make more information such as energy and water use available, and to allow occupiers to see how their buildings are performing in comparison with others, and with predictive performances at design and construction stages.

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