BREEAM - Don’t become fixated on that plaque beside the door

Hallmarks often serve an important purpose. But if organisations become fixated on achieving a hallmark merely to display it to the outside world, then they are defeating the purpose. This certainly also applies to BREEAM, a sustainability hallmark brought into being to evaluate and monitor the sustainability performance of buildings. But in practice what too often happens is that this method is only used for the benefit of putting a plaque on the wall showing two, three, four or five stars, simply to enhance the organisation’s sustainability image.

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And that’s a shame. Because achieving a certificate is not what the power of BREEAM is about. To fully benefit from BREEAM it should be viewed as a journey of continual opportunity and improvement.

What is BREEAM?

BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. It is the most frequently used sustainability hallmark for buildings in Europe, and comes in four types: Newbuild, In-Use, Area and Demolition. Many organisations work with the ‘In-Use’ hallmark, because 99 percent of buildings belong to the existing building stock.

With BREEAM In-Use, your organisation can therefore monitor regularly just how sustainably a building is being used and managed. This involves characteristics of the building itself, its installations and its management. Evaluation occurs in nine categories:
1.      Management
2.      Health
3.      Materials
4.      Energy
5.      Transport
6.      Water
7.      Pollution
8.      Land use and ecology
9.      Waste

One to five stars

Almost all organisations concern themselves with sustainability in one way or another. Measuring performance is becoming increasingly important. The result is expressed in stars: a building may be awarded an overall score ranging from one star (pass) to five (excellent). Naturally it’s wonderful to be able to hang up that plaque beside the door showing an impressive number of stars, but exactly what purpose are you hoping to achieve with that? As often happens with certification and testing, organisations very quickly become fixated on the evaluation.
If your only intention is to complete a checklist and then show that your building is being managed sustainably, then you are missing the point of the certification.


In fact a plaque may even act as a deterrent. If you’ve only just started implementing sustainable building management, then it’s hardly surprising that you will initially score low in an assessment. Some people become discouraged by this, even though it could in fact be a very encouraging baseline: we are not yet doing it properly, so there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Compare it to learning a language: if you have never had any Chinese lessons and you have to sit an exam, then it’s highly likely you will get a low score. Is that a reason to give up immediately, or is it conversely a motivation to start studying?


What’s great about BREEAM is that you can get to work as an organisation yourselves, without having to be certified immediately. Self-assessments enable you to test which parts you score well on and which need more work. This in turn offers direction for taking measures: if it appears you don’t score well on the policy plan or rainwater drainage, then it’s instantly clear just what you can do to improve the sustainability performance of your building.

BREEAM is a very specific test with very specific measures; use them to your advantage. Most of all, don’t become fixated on that certificate with the highest possible number of stars, but use the method as an opportunity to continually improve in your sustainability journey.

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