An interview with new BREEAM boss Martin Townsend and a detailed run-through the changes that have been made to the sustainable standard


Martin Townsend relishes a challenge. And as the recently appointed director of BREEAM, he clearly faces one as he sets out to make buildings more sustainable and more environmentally friendly.

“We all want to be involved in exciting things,” he says. “If you look at the impact of buildings – the way we develop them, the energy and water they use, and how we then occupy them – that has a massive effect on the environment.”

It’s a process that the 40-year-old director says involves educating people throughout the supply chain.

“It stretches from the financial industry, in terms of whether to invest, to the planners on where we are going to place the buildings, to the designers and architects on what they look like, as well as on how people actually operate the buildings,” he says.

Townsend’s CV indicates he is well up to the challenge. His career has included a hands-on construction role when he worked with Tarmac Construction (now known as Carillion). “I’ve been on construction sites at five o’clock in the morning waiting for the concrete to arrive,” he confirms.

Then he became a policy adviser within DEFRA, working on sustainable construction, water efficiency and waste.

Before joining BRE Global, he worked at the Environment Agency, coordinating water resources across the south-east of England. He recalls orchestrating the publicity campaign to urge people to save water during the summer drought of 2006. “We repeatedly told people that if they didn’t save water there would be standpipes in their street,” he says. Townsend is particularly proud of that campaign because he says it helped people realise that water is a precious commodity. He points out: “Even when there was plenty of water, consumption didn’t go up.”

This breadth of experience – as a contractor, regulator and adviser – should come in pretty useful when dealing with the many government departments, agencies, firms and other organisations that the 90-strong BREEAM team is required to work with.

“If you look at BREEAM and the BRE, they have a great history,” says Townsend. “But that is no template for the future. We have really got to open up the way we operate and engage people in a much more open style.

“That’s not passing criticism on what has been done in the past. Working with a whole range of organisations – looking at the challenges and what the solutions are in a much more inclusive way – is one of my challenges. Fortunately, there are so many organisations pointing in the same direction.”

International dialogue

Townsend cites the various worldwide environmental assessment systems as an example. Although barely three weeks into the job when Building met him, he had already exchanged emails with counterparts in the US, seeking ways of collaborative working with the US’s own assessment method, LEED.

“There is so much we can learn from each other,” he says. “We’ve just done a report looking at the advantages and disadvantages of different assessment tools – not as a comment or criticism but to learn whether there are ways of changing or adapting how we do things here. If we are seen to be aggressively competing, what we are actually creating are distractions and not supporting the industry to change.”

Working with a whole range of organisations – looking at the challenges and what the solutions are in a much more inclusive way – is one of my challenges

Townsend suggests one way forward: dual certification that would involve assessing buildings using both the BREEAM and LEED methods.

“We have a global economy. If an American bank wants to build over here, it understands about LEED and wants it built to that standard. That’s fine, but it might not translate that well into the UK climatic environment, our building legislation or the way that building operates,” he says. “Providing a client with dual certification has to be a good way of sharing that information in a much more open and transparent way.”

On the home front, BREEAM’s director wants to work towards closer ties with industry. “We really need to engage with the industry to change at a pace and in a way that works for the industry,” he says. “One of the relationships I’m really keen to foster is with the UK Green Building Council. If people see us as trying to achieve a common objective, we can go so much further.”

Partnering focus

Townsend foresees partnering with industry and other organisations as vital in defining the future research and development work undertaken at its headquarters in Watford, and increasing its knowledge base. “That will give us better and lower environmental impact buildings much, much quicker.”

He adds: “The industry does want to move forward, but there is always going to be nervousness about new technology and the speed of change because it does represent a risk. It’s about giving the industry confidence that it is OK and not such a risky process.”

This process is already under way and the first signs of the closer ties can be seen in the latest revision of BREEAM.

“It is not just a two-year update,” says Townsend. “We’re trying to respond to the industry about what works now and what doesn’t. That’s why we’ve introduced changes to the environmental weightings, the introduction of mandatory credits, and other issues such as two-stage assessments at design and post-construction stages.” (See box, “What’s new”, for details).

Another aspect that will shape future updates of BREEAM is the need to counter the effects that buildings have on the environment and the evolving knowledge on how best that can be accomplished.

“Part of that is the mind-blowing prospect of what a building will look like in 2050,” says Townsend. “Will it be a facsimile of what we’ve got at the moment or something radically different? And will our lifestyles be radically different?”

The new BREEAM director is excited to be involved in the process. “It’s great to be inspired by people and great to believe you can make a difference,” he says.

What’s new

The latest biennial review of BREEAM is one of the most radical updates ever. BREEAM 2008, which comes into force on 1 August, includes major changes:

  • Mandatory post-construction assessment to complement the assessment done at design stage
  • Introducing an Outstanding rating for buildings that set exemplary standards that go beyond normal best practice. This will recognise and act as an incentive for those who design and construct buildings that perform at the highest level
  • A new credit scheme that rewards innovation
  • The introduction of mandatory standards
  • Changes to environmental weightings
  • Setting benchmarks for CO2 emissions that align with the new Environmental Performance Certificates (EPCs)
  • New schemes covering healthcare and further education
  • Updated version of Green Guide
  • Some changes to specific credits

Environmental weightings

It is not just a two-year update. We’re trying to respond to the industry about what works now and what doesn’t. That’s why we’ve introduced changes to the weightings…

Following feedback on the environmental weightings given to some aspects of the assessment, changes have been made that include separate ratings for energy, transport, materials and waste, which were previously combined under two headings:

(See table attached)

Credits for innovation

Credits will provide extra recognition for innovations that improve a building’s sustainable performance that are not covered under the usual assessment. There are two ways to achieve these:

  • By exceeding the exemplary performance level requirements of an existing BREEAM topic
  • By having a feature of the building or a process assessed by BRE Global deemed “innovative”.

BRE Global is still defining the eligibility criteria and application process but they will be available when the manuals are published on 6 June.

Mandatory standards

These are being introduced to eliminate failures in meeting the minimum requirements in key issues. They tighten the loophole that previously existed whereby a building could achieve an Excellent rating yet fail to comply with straightforward issues such as storing recyclable waste. To match the higher BREEAM rating, the mandatory requirements have become more numerous and onerous. They apply to:

  • Commissioning
  • Considerate Contractor scheme
  • Publication of building information
  • Building user guides
  • Development as a learning resource
  • High–frequency lighting
  • Microbial contamination
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions
  • Sub–metering of major energy uses
  • Water consumption
  • Water metering
  • Storage of recyclable waste
  • Mitigating ecological impact
  • Low- and zero-carbon technologies

Types of buildings covered

The update covers all non–domestic buildings covered by BREEAM:

  • Offices
  • Retail
  • Education
  • Prisons
  • Courts
  • Healthcare
  • Industrial
  • Specialised buildings assessed under the BREEAM Bespoke method

Healthcare and further education buildings

The update signals the formal launch of standard schemes for healthcare and further education buildings. Further education buildings will be contained in a new framework called BREEAM Education, which includes the existing BREEAM Schools version. At present, BRE Global is collaborating with the higher education sector and work is progressing on developing BREEAM criteria for higher education facilities such as university buildings. This is expected to be finalised by next spring. Meanwhile, higher education buildings and any other type of building not covered by a version of BREEAM can be assessed using the Bespoke manual.

Domestic properties

The schemes covering domestic properties – EcoHomes, EcoHomesXB and BREEAM Multi-residential – will be updated towards the end of 2008.

When is it launched?

  • The new BREEAM comes into force on 1 August, after which buildings can no longer be registered under the 2006 version.
  • Buildings registered that have not been assessed fully by that date can continue to be rated under the 2006 methodology.
  • The new 2008 non-domestic manuals will be available to download from from 6 June.
  • Licensed BREEAM assessors have had access to the new requirements since 6 May so they are fully prepared for making assessments and giving advice from the 1 August start date.

All new Green Guide

The Green Guide sets out the environmental impacts of building materials and components, assessed across their lifecycle.

The updated version of the guide ( takes into account changes in the environmental performance of various materials and components because of alterations in the manufacturing process, the way they are used in buildings, and evolving knowledge about the environment. The online version (a printed version will be available later this year) has more than 1,200 commonly used specifications.

Materials and components are grouped into building elements – external walls, internal walls and partitions, roofs, ground floors, intermediate floors, floor finishes, windows, insulation and landscaping. This allows designers and specifiers to select from comparable materials or systems.

Within each building element is a catalogue of products. They are ranked on their influence on the environment on a scale from A+ (best performance/ least impact) to E (worst performance/ most impact). The 12 issues considered for a product’s ranking range from toxicity for humans to waste disposal and depletion of mineral resources.

The guide covers six generic building types: offices, retail, healthcare, educational, industrial and residential.

More about BREEAM

The 2008 non–domestic manuals can be downloaded from from 6 June. Manuals on domestic housing – EcoHomes, EcoHomesXB and BREEAM Multi–residential – will be updated by the end of 2008.

BRE Global will be running seminars on the changes later this year. Anyone who is interested should email Short seminars will also be held at the 100% Detail sustainability exhibition at Earl’s Court on 18-21 September. For details visit

Training courses for new assessors in the 2008 version start in September. Dates and fees can be found at Existing licensed assessors will be given training on the updated manuals and will be able to give advice when the new versions come into force on 1 August.