Sustainability in one image, I think
Sustainability in one image, I think

The last LIVIC of the year, and that means the final hot topic for 2013! Hopefully the previous editions of the hot topics have been useful or at least interesting. If you have ideas for a hot topic or want to write one yourself then get in contact via the CivSoc email or with me personally. This month we are taking a look at BREEAM. I’ll be honest; I didn’t know what it was before I started writing this, so this is all off the back of my own research.

So, what is BREEAM? Well, it stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. In a nutshell, it’s a way to assess how sustainable a building is and it’s used globally on over 200,000 buildings. In the same way restaurants have a Michelin rating; buildings have a BREEAM. It’s a five-tier system, ranging from pass to outstanding and a third party carries it out. So what are the  ratings based on? Management, Energy Use, Health and Wellbeing, Pollution, Transport, Land Use, Ecology, Materials and Water. As you can see there are a number of factors that affect a BREEAM rating, it is recommended that you appoint a BREEAM assessor before you get your building BREAAM rated. Obviously, it takes quite a lot to get an excellent or outstanding rating; you have to be in the top 10% or 1% respectively; so the question is whether BREEAM is actually worth it?

There have been a number of studies done with respect to BREEAM, to show its benefits. One of these studies found that if you invested in a BREEAM building that got an excellent or outstanding rating, it would pay itself back in 8 years with regards to the amount of CO2 saved, and in two years with the amount of water saved. Therefore the savings definitely outweigh the capital outlay needed for a BREEAM building. Another highlighted that designing a building to an excellent or outstanding rating would only cost 0.8%-1.7% of the capital cost, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but what are the benefits of BREEAM?

Firstly, it provides a benchmark tool that can be used to make informed operational and investment decisions. It future proofs building specifications, it’s plain to see that sustainability as a whole is a hot topic in civil engineering so if your building is BREEAM rated it can be a real benefit, especially for investors looking to sell or let their buildings. Moreover, it means that the building costs a lot less to run, if there’s less electricity used, less water and less CO2 produced then the building will save money, after it has made money back on the initial outlay. It also demonstrates that companies are committed to sustainability to their customers, staff and communities; this can only be a positive thing because sustainability is a big issue so if companies are committing early they’re showing that they are forward thinking. This is also a means that they can use to attract the top minds to their businesses as it shows that as a company they have foresight. Financially it makes sense, and for companies the benefits are unbelievably good. So why aren’t more companies or buildings doing it?

This is purely speculation but there could be a multitude of reasons why companies don’t invest in BREEAM. I think one of the major reasons is that they don’t believe that it is worth it, they are not sure about the benefits or how they could properly implement it in to their building. When I was researching about BREEAM I was convinced that it was solely created for new buildings, but in fact it can be used at any stage in the building’s life cycle, from master planning to new designs to existing buildings and refurbishments. Speaking of refurbishments, if you were wondering where Imperial ranked, the two latest refurbishments of the City & Guilds Buildings and the ACE Extension were aiming for Very Good and Good ratings respectively.

As a concept, BREEAM isn’t a very hard idea to get your head around, it’s fairly straight forward; however the knowledge of its benefits and whether you believe it’s worth it or not is very important. If you’re able to confidently talk about BREEAM at an interview, it could easily make you stand out amongst other candidates, even do a bit of research in to the building you’re going to an see if it has a BREEAM rating.