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 extensive insider knowledge, as experienced and successful BREEAM accredited professionals, we set out the nine biggest mistakes clients make. These can seriously impair their ability to secure the BREEAM rating they need, on-time, and within budget.

Mistake one: Not being aware of BREEAM section Material 01 (environmental impacts from construction products – building life cycle assessment)

Sorry for becoming a bit technical here but BREEAM section Material 01 is a vital part of the certification process and a major element in our own scope of work. As it covers construction projects’ environmental impacts, in practice it’s principally about emissions of carbon, which accounts for nearly all the greenhouse gasses developments produce. The Building Research Establishment (BRE), the organisation which developed and administers BREEAM, insists that Material 01 is addressed according to a strict timeline. This starts very early in a project’s existence, as the first life cycle assessment (LCA), covering the concept design, must be submitted before any planning application is filed with the local authority. Moreover, the information needed for that initial LCA is not normally readily available at this nascent stage of a project.

This double whammy, of an extremely early BREEAM submission requirement and the frequent need to make special provision for capturing the information needed, means it’s no exaggeration to say that most of our clients are caught out by Material 01.

Mistake two: Failing to anticipate a lack of alignment between local authority and BRE processes

It’s an unfortunate fact that local authority procedures concerning planning permission and the BRE’s process for securing BREEAM accreditation by no means always harmonise. Indeed, at times they can appear to conflict. This can cause technical issues and frustrations to the unwary. Too many clients fail to look ahead and anticipate the times when they’ll need to compromise between the two schemes or clearly favour one over the other for a period. Forewarned is forearmed and if you familiarise yourself with the two procedures and anticipate any such dilemmas they may present in the time ahead, you can be clear in advance about how you’ll resolve these and keep both shows on the road.

Mistake three: Neglecting to hire the BREEAM assessor or accredited professional early enough

It’s almost literally never too early to hire your BREEAM assessor or accredited professional. Elsewhere in this campaign, we’ve argued strongly that the appointment should at least be made before a project exits stage one of the Royal Institution of British Architects’ Plan of Work. The assessor or accredited professional can be a massive asset in the quest for a desired BREEAM rating and the sooner they’re on board, the greater the breadth and depth of the benefits they can deliver. If they’re in the team, with access not just to the client but all other stakeholders and project team members, virtually from the get-go, the chances of achieving the desired BREEAM rating increase almost exponentially.

Yet, we’re still appointed to many projects when it’s literally too late for us to change anything about them. In those circumstances, we can’t do much more than present information about work over which we’ve had no say in the best possible way and cross our fingers that the target level of accreditation will result. For clients, such a policy very often equates to self-inflicted damage.

Mistake four: Not understanding the BREEAM scheme, scope, and function of their project

When you register a project for BREEAM with the BRE, you must confirm its scheme, scope, and function. However, you can’t just do this using your own preferred descriptions, as there are a limited number of tightly defined BREEAM categories which can apply, and the options chosen must reflect the project’s reality. This can be something of a bear trap for the uninitiated, particularly where mixed-use developments are concerned. It’s not unusual that a developer, for example, fondly considers their project a mainly retail site, an emphasis which may be reflected in items such as marketing material. But when we ask to see architectural drawings or specifications to verify this, it becomes apparent that office accommodation will occupy a slightly greater area of the site than retail space and the former, therefore, is the applicable BREEAM function. Contradicting a client in this way doesn’t always make us popular with them but, as reclassifying BREEAM projects once they’ve been registered costs money, it’s in their interests that we do so.

Mistake five: Generating technical fails

Problems known in BREEAM parlance as “technical fails” can derail the entire quest for certification. One common cause is a building’s energy performance in practice falling short of the level expected at the pre-assessment. This type of fault is theoretically impossible in most projects, as they have tight specifications, stipulating matters such as all materials to be used and how each building service should be installed. But there can be considerable gaps between theory and practice, so unfortunately this kind of issue isn’t unknown.

Another type of technical fail we encounter involves clients falling foul of BREEAM’s management section, which requires evidence of timely project discussion and decision making to be produced, via documents such as contemporaneous email records and meeting minutes. Maintaining comprehensive proof of this kind can seem tiresome, but it’s a very important part of the BREEAM process. As this example illustrates, technical fails often only come to light when it’s too late to correct them, so it’s vital they’re avoided.

Mistake six: Failing to understand the BREEAM calculators

The BRE makes a range of tools available to people and organisations seeking BREEAM accreditations, intended to make things easier and help ensure the evidence they maintain is adequate. These include a series of calculators, covering various aspects of the scheme. Using these aids can seem straightforward but in practice is often more complicated than that and mistakes resulting from this misunderstanding can cause significant problems. We frequently encounter calculations clients have made using these devices where the totals initially seem reasonable but on closer inspection are all wrong. Revising every incorrect calculation can easily add a couple of weeks to the accreditation process, a fate an initial 15-minute phone conversation with us could have avoided. It’s therefore important that clients understand exactly what they’re doing before they start pushing buttons.

Mistake seven: Neglecting to ensure the BREEAM assessor or accredited professional knows who’s responsible for what

In this campaign’s blog post itemising five early actions clients can take to smooth the BEEAM process, we mention the desirability of a project kick-off meeting. We also explain the importance of this gathering determining clearly who is responsible for which BREEAM-related actions and when these should take place. It’s also vital that the assessor or accredited professional assigned to a project understands where these responsibilities lie. BREEAM certification requires literally hundreds of pieces of evidence to be produced about a development and some of these can easily go through five or six pairs of hands within the project team. Problems such as unnecessary delays can therefore be avoided through the assessor or accredited professional knowing clearly who their appropriate contact is for every element of the process.

Mistake eight: Not making full use of our commitment and expertise

We often come away from BREEAM projects feeling clients have not utilised our service to the maximum extent. The reality is that we’re as committed to securing the levels of accreditation needed as they are. We can help smooth the process, present information to the BRE in the most effective way, and are always extremely responsive, for example. Our assistance with the procedure is delivered partly through the many customised documents, such as schedules and checklists, we’ve produced, which help link the elements of the process together in a continuous, sequential, understandable narrative for clients. We’re also experts in taking information from clients and presenting it to the BRE in the form of documents such as validation statements which reflect its preferences exactly. On top of that, we’re always accessible by methods such as phone and email, to provide clients with jargon-free advice and explanations.

Mistake nine: Failing to keep certifications up to date

The BRE demands the possession of certain current external certifications for BREEAM accreditations to be awarded. These include the International Standards Organisation’s ISO 14001 for on-site management and materials, plus approved Environmental Product Declarations. Clients should therefore check their databases of such items regularly and ensure relevant certifications haven’t expired. Any need to renew these documents can literally put a quest for BREEAM accreditation back by months, so it’s important these oversights are avoided.

Want to know how to avoid these mistakes?

Click the button on the right to download the ‘BREEAM Timeline 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