This post is part of a series of plain English Yonder communications, also featuring elements such as e-booklets, explaining the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). That’s the world’s longest standing and most widely used scheme for assessing, rating, and certifying buildings’ sustainability.

The first of our posts, BREEAM Basics, provided an overview of the scheme, while the initial e-booklet explained the timeline leading to certification. So, if you’re new to the method, we’d recommend reading those materials before studying this one. Here, using our long and successful experience as BREEAM accredited professionals, we explain five actions you can take early in a building’s development that will smooth your path to success enormously.

But first some essential background information.

Preface: The Royal Institution of British Architects Plan of Work

The Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work specifies the eight major phases in any construction project, itemising key actions to be taken during each, and is very widely used within the industry.

One beauty of BREEAM is that every main task leading to certification falls neatly under one of the RIBA plan’s first seven headings, covering the period from strategic definition to building handover. We’ll therefore refer to the relationship between the two processes throughout this post.

Here’s a graphic showing how actions needed for BREEAM accreditation match the plan of work’s headings:

Following this pathway is always advisable. If you’re seeking a lofty BREEAM rating, such as Excellent or Outstanding, it’s virtually compulsory.

All those RIBA headings and the accompanying BREEAM tasks we’ve outlined conceal a myriad of detailed, technical work, however. So, please never view our graphic as an alternative to appointing experts, such as a BREEAM accredited professional, to help and advise you through the certification process.

Early action one: Don’t let BREEAM become an afterthought

You may think following a tried and tested plan like the one outlined in the previous section is so obviously sensible it would count as a no-brainer. But the reason we’re urging you to avoid BREEAM becoming an afterthought is it’s still too common for nothing scheme-related to happen prior to tender – at RIBA stages zero, one and two of a project. It’s then not unusual for the main contractor, who typically only becomes involved at stage three, to be instructed to obtain an impressive BREEAM rating, when the earlier inactivity has made that task far harder than it should be.

Indeed, it’s not that unusual for professionals intimately connected with construction projects to be unaware that they require BREEAM ratings at all. We often hear such operators say “I didn’t know there was a BREEAM on this” or words to that effect.

In fact, the BREEAM requirements of parties such as clients, investors, and local authorities should be clear at RIBA stage zero, when site appraisals take place. That means understanding whether the relevant council insists on a BREEAM Excellent rating if planning permission is to be granted where a development has an area of over 1,000 square metres, for example.

You should also make BREEAM an agenda item in all project team meetings, from RIBA stage zero onwards.

Early action two: Obtain advice from a senior operator experienced with BREEAM

Among other benefits, seeking guidance from a professional familiar with BREEAM from the outset will help ensure scheme-related content in those project team meetings is relevant. Achieving a desired BREEAM rating is very worthwhile, but the process is demanding and detailed, so you need to know at every stage exactly what you should be discussing. Involving someone with that kind of background will help ensure you cover everything you need to address at a given point and don’t waste valuable time talking about issues that don’t matter as much for the moment.

The person you consult doesn’t have to a BREEAM assessor or accredited professional, like one of Yonder’s experts, at stage zero. But you do need this level of expertise on board from stage one. Apart from anything else, an assessor or accredited professional will have up-to-date knowledge of, and information about, the scheme, which is modified and updated regularly. They’ll therefore help to ensure any BREEAM-related guidance you received earlier in the project or knowledge from previous developments is modified to match current scheme requirements, where necessary, for example.

A BREEAM assessor or accredited professional will also be able to mention any scheme updates in the pipeline that require early registration on your part.

Securing this expert advice early in a project can also pay dividends when it comes to issues such as determining whether yours is a bespoke development, for BREEAM purposes. A bespoke building is one that will contain unique functions or even a mix of functional spaces, such as shops, offices, and educational facilities.

Here, standard BREEAM evaluation criteria for more common projects, usually fulfilling only one function, obviously can’t apply. The Building Research Establishment, the organisation which developed and administers BREEAM, must therefore design a one-off framework. This will include the most criteria for all spaces in the development and a weighting in the final score for each type of accommodation, based on the proportion of the completed building it will comprise.

If yours is a bespoke project, you’ll experience delays and potentially much higher costs in achieving your BREEAM rating. Failing to know where you stand on this matter at RIBA stages zero or one can therefore put you seriously on the back foot, so obtaining guidance from an assessor or accredited professional could be crucial.

Early action three: Secure a BREEAM pre-assessment at RIBA stage one or two, as appropriate

Obtaining a BREEAM pre-assessment matters because it will set out in detail what you must do to achieve certification.

For most projects, leaving pre-assessments until RIBA stage two, the concept design phase, is fine, as the graphic in our preface suggested.

However, where masterplans are involved or BREEAM Outstanding ratings are required, the more prudent course is to obtain pre-assessments at stage one, with these being revisited at stage two. This is because establishing your wider strategy for obtaining BREEAM certification early can be especially crucial in these cases.

Stage one pre-assessments in such projects help ensure planning and pre-tender actions are carried out at the right times. They also clearly identify site weaknesses, which need to be compensated for, and therefore provide designers with ideas of what they must do or include during stage two. Architects in these projects also tend to appreciate stage one pre-assessments, as they mean less of their future work amounting to educated guesses.

Early action four: Ensure consultant appointments and quotes cover the BREEAM criteria

Once you’re clear about the desired level of BREEAM accreditation, from Pass to Outstanding, for your project, include this objective in the design brief and instructions for the development team. Each brief for every consultant should reiterate that aim and all concerned should be told to include the time and fees needed to achieve it in their quotations. You should also ensure relevant actions are included in documents such as scopes of work.

This advice covers, among others, third-party specialists in fields such as:

  • Ecology
  • Transport
  • Security
  • Acoustics
  • Energy assessment
  • Energy modelling
  • Main contracting
  • Architects
  • Building service engineering
  • Structural service engineering
  • Site management
  • Design
  • Project management

Ensuring all consultants understand what’s expected of them in this way will probably mean lowering the cost and improving the outcomes of your BREEAM process. One reason for this is appropriate actions, whether at desks or on-site, won’t have to be shoe-horned into the programme later.

Doing this should also avoid a situation where you, as a client, end up on the hook for an extra £100,000 or more – which can easily happen – because a BREEAM Excellent or Outstanding rating is needed but consultants’ original quotations have not reflected the full costs of achieving it.

Early action five: Investigate the pre-assessment’s risk items to ensure your targets are realistic

BREEAM requirements are often very demanding and detailed, so it’s frequently a mistake to blithely assume achieving your target level of accreditation will be easy or even possible. You shouldn’t, therefore, just pass the BREEAM pre-assessment on to the main contractor, as it may be too late to include key items for best value when they take control of the design.

Instead, check the risk elements identified in the pre-assessment against the current design yourself and decide honestly whether success is feasible. If so, you can incorporate what’s needed for BREEAM in the drawings, specifications, and contractual documents produced at the planning and tender stages. Adopting this approach will deliver the additional benefit of providing valuable evidence for your assessor that these matters have been addressed in a timely way.

See how we implement these actions to maximise BREEAM scores for our clients.

Click the button on the right to download the ‘BREEAM case studies e-book’

If you want to know more about our expertise in helping organisations maximise their BREEAM ratings and how we can assist you with yours, please:

Write to us: Yonder ConsultingThird Floor, Concordia Works30 Sovereign StreetLeeds LS1 4BA