What is BREEAM in construction and can tech help certification
In sustainable construction, specific certifications serve as benchmarks for environmental stewardship and responsible building practices. Among these, BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) has become a leading standard.
This blog post delves into how technology aids in achieving this coveted certification, especially in the construction industry. We will also explore how it differs from LEED and WELL certification, as well as its popularity in the UK.
BREEAM focuses primarily on environmental sustainability, while WELL prioritises human health and wellness. These are not mutually exclusive goals, and many buildings aim to achieve BREEAM and WELL certification to ensure they are both environmentally friendly and conducive to human health and wellbeing.
We'll examine the difference with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) later in this article.
What is BREEAM?
BREEAM is one of the world’s leading sustainability assessment methods for the planning and infrastructure of a building. It was established in the UK in 1990 by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and has since gained international recognition. Essentially, it is a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to assessing the environmental performance of buildings, considering aspects such as energy efficiency, water usage, pollution, transportation, materials, waste, ecology, and management processes.
How technology aids in achieving certification
Technology plays a pivotal role in achieving certification, acting as a driving force in enhancing various aspects of building sustainability:
Energy efficiency technologies
Smart technology can automate energy usage, reducing waste by adjusting lighting, heating, and cooling based on occupancy and usage patterns. This can significantly reduce the energy footprint of buildings.
Energy management systems can also provide valuable data for tracking and improving energy usage. Sensor-based systems and intelligent energy management software can optimise energy consumption, contributing to higher BREEAM scores.
Water conservation systems
Technological advancements in water management, including rainwater harvesting systems, water-efficient fixtures, and smart irrigation systems, contribute to the water efficiency criteria.
Waste management solutions
Tech-based waste management systems can improve recycling rates and reduce landfill contributions. Smart waste sorting and collection technologies are integral in achieving BREEAM’s waste management criteria.
Sustainable material tracking
Using technology to track and verify the sustainable sourcing and lifecycle impacts of building materials is crucial in meeting the materials criteria.
Utilising materials with embedded technology can contribute to achieving higher scores. For example, self-healing concrete and phase-change materials can improve a building’s durability and energy efficiency.
Building simulation software and BMS
Software that simulates various aspects of building performance, including energy, water, and lighting, is instrumental in the design phase, helping architects and engineers create buildings that align with BREEAM standards.
Building management systems (BMS) can monitor and control various functions, from energy usage to indoor air quality. These systems can help optimise the building’s operation for energy efficiency and comfort, contributing to several BREEAM categories.
Air quality and comfort technologies
Indoor air quality monitors, advanced ventilation systems, and climate control technologies ensure occupant health and well-being, addressing critical criteria in the assessment.
Technologies like advanced HVAC systems and air purifiers can help reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution, contributing to better scores in the Pollution category.
Technologies such as waste tracking software can help manage and minimise construction and operational waste, contributing to the Waste category.
Using technology to encourage low-carbon transport, such as electric vehicle charging stations, can contribute to the Transport category.
Renewable energy technologies
Renewable energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal systems can reduce a building’s reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to several BREEAM categories.
BREEAM vs LEED: Key differences and popularity in the UK
While BREEAM and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) are prominent green building certification systems, they have distinct approaches and are rooted in different regions.
Origin and Adaptability: BREEAM originated in the UK and is known for its adaptability to various international standards. LEED, on the other hand, originated in the United States and is often seen as more prescriptive.
Assessment Methodology: BREEAM tends to have a more comprehensive approach, evaluating a broader set of criteria, whereas LEED is often seen as more straightforward and user-friendly.
Certification Process: The certification process also varies, with BREEAM often being perceived as more rigorous in certain aspects.
Popularity in the UK
In the UK, BREEAM is more widely recognised and popular, given its local origin and adaptability to UK building practices and regulations. It is considered the benchmark for best practices in sustainable building design and has a strong foothold in the UK construction industry.
Warning: Security Threat
Smart devices in a building, often called the Internet of Things (IoT), are an essential part of the monitoring and control needed to ensure premises achieve their environmental goals. However, so-called 'smart' devices are not that smart. They are designed to do one thing, and frequently have security gaps with limited firmware updates.
For example, a smart heating system in a commercial building could be targeted by hackers. They could exploit unpatched vulnerabilities or weak passwords, and take control of the system. This would enable them to manipulate temperature settings to disrupt normal operations.
In some cases, because the heating system is connected to the network, they could gain access to confidential company data stored in other departments or conduct a ransomware attack.
An infamous example was Target, a retailer in the USA, whose finance system was hacked via a connection to the heating and ventilation controls. Target said the breach exposed approximately 40 million customer debit and credit card accounts. While Target had to pay an $18 million settlement, their estimated losses were over $200 million.
Understanding BREEAM is essential for anyone in the construction sector aiming for sustainability credentials. More clients see ‘green’
offices as easier to lease, as they contribute to their tenants' environmental goals.
A construction company with experience, knowledge or familiarity with green building certification will surely gain a competitive edge.
While BREEAM shares common goals with LEED, its roots and widespread adoption in the UK make it a significant standard for British buildings. It will probably always come out on top in the UK, simply because it’s embedded in the system. Government departments require BREEAM ratings of all their buildings, and most local authorities require BREEAM as part of planning approval for developments over a specific size.
There is a degree of hype about the battle between BREEAM and LEED in the UK, but many buildings have both certifications, and the two credentials seem happy to co-exist.
As we embrace sustainable practices in construction, certifications, supported by advanced technologies, pave the way towards more environmentally responsible and efficient buildings.
But security concerns surrounding the connection of devices to the network mean it is wise to consult cyber security experts before commissioning work. Integrating these technologies should be part of a holistic approach to sustainable building design that considers all aspects of BREEAM.
For details on WELL certification, check our article 'How technology helps achieve WELL building standard'