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Taking a step beyond the BREEAM checklist

Nitesh Magdani 11 Sep 2013

For many projects in the UK, BREEAM has become the default choice as the recognised sustainable benchmark, but does this really influence the end result?

Environmental assessment schemes have grown in popularity over the past 20 or so years since the introduction of BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and have proven themselves in improving the quality of the built environment and boosting the market share of sustainability.

The market has also progressed towards the delivery of lower carbon buildings, largely due to the tightening of legislation, combined with a handful of enlightened clients that have chosen to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The lead designer (usually the architect) should tease out of the client their true aspirations for running and operating a green building, as opposed to a standard one. In doing so, the architect will be able to produce a sustainable design brief that meets or exceeds the client’s needs.

In a recent article by the late Mel Starrs, the renowned ‘Elemental’ blogger, she talked about the ‘Natural Step’ process. BREEAM (and other assessment schemes) tend to forecast towards a known outcome by adding incremental improvements…the ‘Natural Step’ advocates ‘backcasting’ which is defined by its founder Dr Karl-Hendrik Robert as “envisioning the end result they want and then mapping out a path to getting there, rather than focusing on making current practices a little less harmful”.

Whilst environmental assessment schemes show this incremental improvement in the greening of our buildings in the UK, we must recognise that sustainable design is much more than this.

We need to educate our clients to realise the true benefits of sustainable buildings to the health and wellbeing of their occupants, reduced energy costs, and an appreciation for the longer term impacts to the environment. This vision is much more than a checklist and is borne out of a holistic design strategy, collaboration and innovation.

What clients should be asking for is how much energy they will save in the building’s life cycle. Although there is some evidence that the market can take a holistic view, this question is rarely asked.

Whilst the process starts with design, I believe contractors are well placed to contribute to the sustainable design agenda. Whether it is through design, construction or operation of buildings, we need to close this intellectual loop to ensure that information is not lost. Reducing costs by using fewer resources is a clear incentive for sustainability, and the key is to ensure all stakeholders in the value chain recognise this.

As the school building programme is showing, engaging contractors at an earlier stage of design helps to inform - and then deliver - this holistic approach.

Nitesh Magdani, Director of Sustainability at BAM, talks to Construction News about Sustainability.



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