The tide is turning: How the construction industry is embracing BREEAM

BREEAM is considered one of the world’s leading sustainability assessment methods and in the UK, it’s uptake during all stages of a project has proven financial benefits. According to the Economic Benefits Publication, a BREEAM-rated building reduces the operating and refurbishment costs for landlords, helps to lower running costs, slows depreciation rates and attracts and retains quality tenants. 

But while BREEAM requirements on projects have been around for some time and were adopted quickly by new-build contractors, the refurb and fit-out industry has been slower on the uptake. The tide, however, is slowly turning. According to Stuart Byles, Director at Pexhurst, in the 12 months before lockdown, a greater number of client refurb projects were placed into BREEAM assessment as part of their ongoing commitments to sustainability within the built environment.

Stuart says: “The property industry’s impact on the environment and our responsibility to help fight climate change should be one of the major talking points of any project. BREEAM assessment allows a clear path for clients and contractors to be able to collate and provide evidence about its benefits.”

In addition to the positive environmental impact, BREEAM can also help a property stand out from the crowd. “As tenants look for buildings with higher efficiency and lower running costs, a BREEAM rating can help clients make their properties more marketable and attractive,” says Kevin O’Malley, Senior Estimator at Pexhurst. 

Stuart agrees with this sentiment: “it is obvious that coming out of the initial crisis phase of the pandemic, clients are looking at ways in which they can make their portfolios stand out in the market and increase the value of their assets,” he adds. “More and more clients are recognising that BREEAM is a good way to do so.”

In the industrial sector, clients in the £1m+ project bracket are increasingly tailoring their schemes to achieve ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ ratings at a minimum. In particular, multi-tenant office buildings are being designed and built to include BREEAM-friendly features, such as more natural light, green roofs, LED lighting, solar panels, energy-saving hot water heaters, electric car chargers and cycle storage. 

But, what about the barriers to the uptake of BREEAM? 

Time is possibly the biggest issue, especially as some of the more specialist items have longer lead times which don’t always fit within client timeline expectations. However, Kevin says, “With knowledge and experience, we are becoming more aware of sustainable techniques and we are able to implement these in a more timely manner. Something as simple as using local suppliers and subcontractors can have a big effect and also gives us a broader database for future projects.”

On top of this, Stuart believes the design period of a project is paramount to overcoming barriers and realising the opportunities associated with BREEAM. “This is the area where clients and contractors need to be far more collaborative in the way they work. One positive thing to come out of the pandemic is the ability to use technology to have design team meetings remotely, and engage a project team much earlier and much more frequently than ever before,” he says. 

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