Site lines – BRE’s James Fisher

The BRE’s James Fisher describes how commercial clients are seeing the need to analyse and improve the environmental impact of their buildings in use, to increase asset value.

For many businesses, operating their buildings presents a major cost overhead, often coming second only to staff costs. They also form a sizeable part of an organisation’s environmental and social impact, with the largest percentage of carbon emissions associated with a building’s life cycle occurring within its operational phase. A building and its occupants will consume energy, water and materials, and produce waste and emissions.

Since its 2009 launch, buildings in 34 countries are now certified under BREEAM In-Use, an assessment and certification scheme designed to help building owners, facilities managers, investment managers and building occupiers reduce environmental impacts. It enables performance of existing commercial buildings to be measured in a consistent and credible low-risk way, and areas for improvement to be identified. Dynamic performance scoring and reporting section is combined with a common set of questions that allows the comparison of assets internationally.

Buildings that initially score low on overall assessment have the opportunity to make future year on year improvements, and buildings that score high in their initial ratings can strive to maintain their rating by making on-going improvements. The method also builds on internal review processes to achieve optimal results, and its structure enables the standard to be adaptable to future changes and regulatory requirements.

The majority of environmental assessment tools available focus on one environmental category, such as energy, and look at one assessment area only. By limiting the assessment criteria the results of these environmental tools give a limited picture of the overall environmental impacts of a building, which can distort the decision making process and lead to unforeseen consequences when actions are taken to improve performance. BREEAM In-Use in contrast gives a clear overview of a building’s environmental performance and can lead to informed management decisions.

In-Use, in practice

Citycon Oyj, based in Helsinki, has recently launched a project to introduce the certification to 75 per cent of its properties by 2017. As the leading owner, developer and manager of urban grocery-anchored shopping centres in the Nordic and Baltic regions, Citycon clearly sees BREEAM In-Use certification as a
cost-effective way to manage its EUR 5 bn portfolio. According to Nils Styf, Citycon’s chief investment officer, BREEAM In-Use certificates provide Citycon with a comprehensive overview of the environmental performance of their portfolio and a useful platform to identify improvements.

As a result of their recent environmental focus, Citycon has reduced its reliance on purchased heating energy by an impressive 30 per cent in 2015 for one centre by using renewable energy. Of course, this also positively benefits their carbon footprint too. These benefits can be realised in many more of their properties over time.

Interestingly it is not only private commercial organisations that are seeing the opportunity presented by using BREEAM certification. The methodology has also been widely adopted recently by the City of Stockholm. Stockholms stad, the public sector administration that is responsible for managing the Swedish capital, is fully adopting BREEAM In-Use as part of its asset management strategy.

As part of their commitment, Stockholm is also taking part in a new pilot project aimed at creating a more cost-effective volume assessment route for BREEAM In-Use across its portfolio. Focusing on a parcel of 50 public buildings, the objective is to establish a cost-effective methodology for certifying and maintaining certification of asset portfolios against BREEAM In-Use International 2015.

The pilot one-year project will look at the type of evidence common to a large asset portfolio and how it can be supplied, collected and verified in order to minimise the need for additional site visits. It will focus on ascertaining the type of evidence that applies to buildings with similar characteristics or properties – asset clusters – and on establishing whether an assessor can review this evidence and accept it as applicable to all. The project includes engineering consulting firm PQR Consult AB and BREEAM In-Use assessor Piacon AB.

To date, 100 buildings in the city have been assessed within BREEAM In-Use or are in the process. They represent a broad spectrum of architectural styles, building ages, uses and building services designs, including the historic City Hall building where the Nobel prize-giving ceremony takes place each year. If the method can help to improve the sustainability of such a prestigious landmark building, then it will undoubtedly work across a variety of modern assets too.

The fact that both commercial and public sector property owners are now choosing BREEAM to set them apart, only adds weight to the case for sustainability to be considered as a matter of course in everyday business. This is borne out by the findings from the recent CBRE EMEA Investor Intentions Survey 2016 – explored in more detail in an article authored by Rebecca Pearce, senior director, and EMEA head of Sustainability for CBRE, which was published recently by the Better Buildings Partnership.

The evidence is loud and clear – the market now understands the compelling reasons to invest in asset certification. In the CBRE survey just 11 per cent of respondents now view sustainability as an insignificant factor during due diligence. Even more compelling is that 39 per cent of the institutional investors surveyed cite sustainable assets as ‘critical’ or ‘one of the most important criteria’ when selecting properties to acquire.

This is why more building investors and owners than ever are keen to take control of operational costs across their buildings portfolio and deliver environmental benefits.