Only 1.5% of buildings meet this top rating - why is it so difficult to achieve?

Kartik Amrania BW 2018

BREEAM is the world’s leading measure of the environmental, social and economic impact of buildings, and achieving its highest rating – ‘Outstanding’ – remains a significant challenge. explains how developers can alter their approach to overcome the most common challenges faced when targeting this score.

An ‘Outstanding’ BREEAM rating is the ultimate measure of holistic infrastructure sustainability. It provides a framework to create environments that are not only attractive to investors, but mindful of the wellbeing of those who occupy them and protective of natural resources.

Yet only 1.5 per cent of all buildings currently meet the top-level criteria – a rating of 85 per cent or above – with just 0.3 per cent scoring over 90 per cent. A key barrier to doing so is the prevailing industry approach to the framework, and to sustainable design in general. There are three key areas that are commonly overlooked.

Don’t dismiss the lifecycle analysis

There is currently a huge drive in the industry to slash operational carbon – a key component of BREEAM scoring. But comparatively little thought is given to embodied, or intrinsic, carbon, which accounts for approximately 22 per cent of all emissions in a new development, according to the UK Green Building Council.

Despite industry progress in reducing operational carbon, embodied carbon is expected to increase as a proportion of a building’s total emissions to as much as 40 per cent by 2050. As such, its significance to overall BREEAM ratings will grow as its significance to a building’s lifecycle increases.

Lifecycle analyses (LCAs) provide an overview of a building’s environmental impact, along with recommendations on enhancing performance through new processes, products or materials. They can help developers actively reduce embodied carbon in new buildings and ensure that sustainability is embedded in each development stage.

But despite carrying exemplary BREEAM credits, the importance of the LCA process is often overlooked, with no formal requirement to incorporate their learnings into overall building design. Making full use of LCA findings is a simple but effective means of boosting BREEAM ratings, ensuring a building’s environmental performance is the best it can be.

This approach underscored the development of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in London, the highest BREEAM-rated office building in the world. To tackle key areas of lighting, water conservation and airflow, Sweco considered a broad range of ‘what if’ scenarios involving applications as diverse as vacuum flushing toilets to piezoelectric flooring. This culminated in a process of advanced lifecycle modelling producing innovations that will deliver water savings of 73 per cent and energy savings of 35 per cent compared with a typical office.

Innovation versus replication

Too often we see developers basing new builds on other high-scoring projects, leading design teams to overlook the unique requirements and challenges of their own scheme. Replicating buildings with ‘Outstanding’ score is tempting, but instead these projects should be used only as a learning tool to identify new opportunities for innovation.


Often it can appear more straightforward for individual team members to make decisions in isolation in the interest of efficiency. In practice, however, this approach is counterintuitive, as potential conflicts may remain undetected. This not only impacts on project timescales and cost, but means consideration of which BREEAM credits to target is not an intrinsic part of the process, and therefore less effectively executed.

Any successful scheme should use BREEAM as a framework for pooling ideas and knowledge alongside shared aims, in order to target the right credits from the outset. By fostering collaborative working at every project stage, decisions are reached that suit all parties and provide optimal outcomes, leading to smoother applications and, ultimately, higher BREEAM scores.

It is important to remember that BREEAM is, in essence, a design tool, not merely a box-ticking exercise to pay lip service to. To boost the number of new builds achieving Outstanding ratings, the industry must shift its mindset towards incorporating the framework into new projects from the very beginning of the design process. This would ensure the delivery of holistically sustainable buildings that carry far greater market value, and provide the optimal space to foster employee wellbeing and productivity.

Kartik Amrania is head of building sustainability team at Sweco