Industry recognitions often serve an important purpose. But if organizations become fixated on getting a plaque merely to display it to the outside world, then they are defeating the purpose. This certainly applies to BREEAM, a popular sustainability benchmark used in Europe to evaluate and monitor the sustainability performance of buildings. Too often, these sustainability goals are reached only to display a plaque on the wall showing two, three, four, or five stars; simply to show off the organization’s sustainability image.
Article - A Simplistic Sustainability Truth
Sustainability means many different things to many different people. However, at the heart of its definition there is a simple truth: if we make less environmentally harmful choices, all of us benefit.
And that’s a shame. Because achieving a certificate is not what the power of BREEAM is about.
What is BREEAM?
BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. It is the most frequently used sustainability certification for buildings in Europe, and comes in four types: Newbuild, In-Use, Area, and Demolition. Many organizations work toward the In-Use certification, because 99 percent of buildings are obviously existing buildings.
With BREEAM In-Use, your organization can therefore regularly monitor 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:
8. Land use and ecology
One to five stars
Few organizations do not 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, organizations very quickly become fixated on the evaluation.
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 never learned Chinese and you take a test, then it’s expected you will get a low score. Is that a reason to give up immediately, or is it motivation to start studying?
What’s great about BREEAM is that you can get to work as an organization, 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 handles 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 to become wiser and better.
Director Product Management