Sustainability consultant David O'Rorke sums up the key changes made to the green building assessment method and wonders how well they will be implemented in the current economic climate

It’s been nine months since the release of BREEAM 2008 last August, probably the biggest overhaul of the well established environmental rating system for buildings since its launch in 1990. Significant changes include the incorporation of mandatory requirements, a compulsory post construction review and the creation of a higher rating tier: BREEAM Outstanding. So what do these changes amount to and how is it working out?

Post Construction Review

: Traditionally, most BREEAM assessments took place in one stage: ‘Design and Procurement’. Intended for completion before work had even started on site, they in practice frequently dragged on until practical completion. Under BREEAM 2008, all assessments must now undergo a Post Construction Review, to take place in the run up to practical completion. The BRE intend the original Design Stage assessment to still take place, though you can do a single assessment that combines the two. The repercussions for this are extensive:

• The first stage of the assessment must be completed at design stage, RIBA stage F at the latest, so it is crucial that an assessor is appointed before the start of stage D. This will ensure that the design is on track to comply with the targets set and that the design team know exactly what to do.

• The thoroughness of the new approach and the mandatory site inspection mean that the development must see through everything it set out to achieve. No room for cheating!

• Each assessment is effectively done twice, taking up much more time and fee – for the assessor and the design team.

• Where the design stage assessment does not happen early enough, it will probably be replaced by a combined assessment, covering both design and post construction review. This brings the risk that should any requirements not be met, the rating may be jeopardised, causing potentially serious repercussions.

Mandatory Credits

: Previously each development could choose which credits to achieve, the points from each would then add up to the overall rating (Good, Excellent, etc.). Critics pointed out that a building could therefore achieve a BREEAM Excellent building while barely passing building regulations on CO2 emissions. BREEAM 2008 identifies certain mandatory credits that must be achieved: the higher the rating targeted, the more extensive these mandatory requirements. This tackles the criticism on CO2 emissions - an EPC rating of at least 40, amounting to a mid-B rating, must be achieved for a BREEAM Excellent – and also covers a range of other issues, including site ecology, commissioning of building services and the use and metering of both energy and water. Although these are all sensible requirements, they can result in unexpected outcomes; for instance, the most environmentally sustainable office building imaginable could not even achieve a BREEAM Good rating unless it had a water meter with a pulsed output.

Exemplary Level and Innovation Credits

: Where a building goes significantly beyond certain BREEAM requirements, this is rewarded through additional ‘exemplary credits’. In fitting renewable energy technologies, for example, a maximum of three credits are available where these reduce CO2 emissions from the building by 15%; an extra credit is now available for surpassing 20%. Innovation credits are another new introduction to BREEAM 2008. Where a development incorporates an innovative environmental system not recognised elsewhere in the assessment, application can be made to the BRE for an ‘Approved Innovation’ credit, though at a cost of £1,000 per application, be confident that they will agree with your definition of innovative. Note also that each innovation can only achieve an Innovation Credit once – if a second building uses the same technology it will no longer be considered innovative.


: Finally, a new rating has been introduced for the best performing buildings: BREEAM ‘Outstanding’. This requires a score of at least 85% - including a large number of mandatory credits - and that a further ‘In Use’ BREEAM assessment be carried out on the development.

BREEAM must strike an awkward balance between being accessible and cost effective with being robust and demanding of performance. While very few buildings have yet been certified under BREEAM 2008, it is still unclear how well this has been achieved. Certainly the system is more thorough, with the assessor site visit and two-stage process of evidence gathering.The environmental benchmarks to be met are also higher than ever, pushing the building industry closer to sustainability. But should the changes prove too complex, time consuming and costly, it risks putting people off at a time when they desperately need guidance on building well and cheaply.