Discussion about the future of BREEAM has so far not included this major element of a building’s overall carbon performance

The UK Green Building Council’s recent report on the future direction of BREEAM, the BRE’s tool for measuring the environmental impact of buildings, made for interesting reading.

On the face of it the recommendations would seem wholly sensible and I agree that real data on energy use is crucial. But there are some important points that need to be considered.

One of these is the need to compare like for like buildings, as the ultimate energy performance depends on many factors outside of the control of the original design team. These include occupancy density, times of operation, construction standards, commissioning, IT equipment usage and day-to-day operations. Without this information it will be hard for designers to properly compare the real performance of these buildings.

Added to this, embodied energy of construction is a major element of overall carbon performance with construction carbon often equalling the predicted energy consumption of a building over a thirty year life. At Buro Happold we have integrated embodied carbon into our structural models and welcome more consistent and open modelling of embodied carbon.

However, rather than achieving this through a central system, we believe that all building suppliers should carry out independently audited embodied energy calculations so that data can be integrated within building information models and used to inform all stages of design. It will certainly be a major area of differentiation and decision-making as time progresses.

Adding this to the BREEAM process will certainly help to encourage better standards within the supplier community, but it should be done in a way that clearly acknowledges the ’cradle to cradle’ cycle for different options rather than the ’factory gate’ figure alone.

Future strategies for BREEAM will need to see a general alignment with government carbon reduction and sustainability plans. BREEAM could then be integrated into legislation so that all new buildings and communities are built with sustainability embedded into the process.

At this stage, BREEAM should no longer be managed as a private monopoly and instead should be incorporated into planning policy in the same way that Ecohomes was replaced by The Code for Sustainable Homes.

Whichever organisation or organisations manage this process, including the BRE, they should be encouraged to do so in an open and collaborative way so that the whole industry benefits from a more dynamic methodology and significant improvements to the auditing and management process itself.

This will require a number of commercially available analysis and checking tools to ensure compliance and a larger number of consultants working together to improve the underlying aims and objectives.