In December 2020, the BREEAM team gave all us BREEAM lovers an early Christmas present. They unveiled some exciting new changes in the structuring of BREEAM, which they called ‘the Next Generation’.
Shamir Ghumra, Head of Performance Services, described this as ‘the most significant moment in the history of BREEAM’. But do the proposed changes deserve so much fanfare? We think they look very interesting, so let’s dive in.
For the uninitiated: BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability method, launched back in 1990. Since then, nearly 600k buildings have been certified by the scheme, and 2.3 million registered buildings are designing and building above the regulatory minimum for sustainability. Without BREEAM, we likely wouldn’t know who was and wasn’t embedding sustainability into their projects. It’s made an incalculable difference to our built environment in the last thirty years.
Shamir Ghumra, Head of Performance Services, described this as ‘the most significant moment in the history of BREEAM’.
Why change it, then?
BREEAM has always made every effort to align and evolve with industry best practice, usually updating the scheme every 3-4 years. In broad terms this has kept BREEAM at the forefront of the latest thinking. But in reality, the structure and core processes of certification have stayed much the same. The same nine categories have been used for certification, which have often proved too rigid and old-fashioned to keep up with rapidly changing sustainability technology. While it might be a good thing not to follow every trend as it emerges, a 3-4 year cycle has, in the end, not been current enough to harness the full potential of the knowledge and technology available to us at any one time.
Take ‘net zero carbon’, for instance, one of the buzziest advances in the industry this year. The whole industry is working together to clarify how to measure and achieve it. But BREEAM hasn’t been updated recently enough to address it in its certifications – it doesn’t allow for offsite solutions or offsetting, for a start, which are both key aspects of achieving net zero carbon.
What’s different with Next Generation?
As a result, BREEAM are reconsidering their approach. One small change is that the core BREEAM methodology will be re-engineered to develop a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to measure and benchmark net zero carbon. They’ve suggested that it will likely sit outside the current schemes, perhaps as a separate certification. The concept is clearly still being developed by the BRE, but it’s exciting to see them tackling it nonetheless.
Overall, BREEAM have promised that the Next Generation will be more agile, more outcome-focused and more responsive, all while maintaining its core principle: to provide assurance.
Most strikingly, the nine categories of certification will be reworked and condensed to seven. These seem better adapted to modern sustainability issues, adding scope for new issues and perhaps providing the push needed to remove the outdated ones. The new proposed categories are:
Reduce carbon emissions
Encouraging sustainable use of resources
Protecting assets and people through transitional risk management
Integrating the asset with local community and wider society
Health & Wellbeing
Increasing the health and wellbeing of people
Having positive impacts on the environment
Improving construction quality and user satisfaction
The most interesting new category for me is Social Impact, which might cover local investment, behaviour change, awareness raising, and responsible leadership – all much needed, and a welcome addition.
We don’t yet know how the weightings and scorings of these new categories will be developed, so that’s still to come. But we do know that they plan to better use data – providing clients with quality data which helps inform decision making, not just on a single asset but on their entire portfolio. BREEAM hope this will help their schemes become a tool to influence business decisions, supporting clients in measuring and tracking their sustainability journey.
How will data be measured?
At present it’s proposed that there will be a suite of KPIs under each new category, for each life cycle stage. Each KPI will follow through the life cycle, so that performance can be measured using the same benchmark throughout the asset’s life. While the principle is sound, this aspect of the proposals seems less well-defined, so we imagine it will take time to develop the idea further.
When will these changes happen?
All changes outlined are still at proposal stage, so a final release date isn’t yet on the cards. But we’re excited by their potential, and eager to put them into practice with our clients!
Email me and let me know how the team and I can support you with your new beginnings!