Site lines – Martin Townsend, BRE Global

Martin Townsend, director of sustainability at BRE Global, looks at the importance of building standards which reflect local needs across the globe, in order to share best practice and drive change.

There is a rapidly growing appetite for rating methodologies that can be used to demonstrate the environmental performance of our activities, ranging from personal carbon footprinting tools to complex sustainability assessments and standards of components, buildings and entire cities.

There are also rapidly growing demands to demonstrate sustainability in many aspects of the built environment, which result in a flood of claims and counter-claims together with the development of more and more standards, guidance and rating methods. While much of this work is well founded and helpful in moving the agenda forward, the plethora of approaches introduces confusion and conflict in the marketplace and a lack of consistency in priorities and direction. This acts as a barrier to take-up and therefore to meeting the objectives that these initiatives set out to achieve.

It must be recognised that the construction industry is diverse and has many, often conflicting, commercial and policy objectives that can disrupt or divert the drive to greater overall sustainability.

Organisations are increasingly using the sustainability label to promote their products in an ill-informed market with varying degrees of rigour and robustness. In this debate, no other country has the spread of focused initiatives in place which the UK does. The drive to overcome the deficiencies that undoubtedly exist in these methodologies must not result in a loss of this hard-earned experience, knowledge or commercial position.

There is a need to consolidate and, where possible, simplify the ‘toolbox’ to improve understanding and take-up, but experience and quality must not be lost. Neither must there be a ‘dumbing down’ of targets or a loss of the focused message for different stakeholders.

An evolving standard

Over its 25 year existence BREEAM has become the de facto rating method for building performance. During that time it has quietly driven change, perhaps without us even knowing it, is now used in more than 70 countries and has an 80 per cent market share in Europe.

With this international growth stemming from a relatively short history, the BREEAM International scheme for new buildings was launched in 2008 and the first International certificate was issued to the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. The first existing building outside the UK was certified in 2010 and in 2013 saw the launch of BREEAM In-Use International, which allows clients with International property portfolios to assess their assets globally.

The standard’s 25 years of change included the endorsement of the 1993 launch of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and numerous other responsible sourcing schemes since then. We continue to work with the materials sector and are developing a means of differentiating between responsible sourcing schemes, on the basis of their scope and rigour through the supply chain. This differentiation will add value to both designers and specifiers, supporting their decision making and ultimately leading to a more sustainable built environment.

Change to lead

Consideration of the importance of the health and wellbeing of occupants has been on the increase in the design and operation of buildings since the first BREEAM scheme launched in 1990. The original scheme was split into three parts, with an Indoor Effects section focusing on the impacts of buildings on welfare of occupants. It recognised that people typically spend 90% or more of their time in buildings so better environmental conditions can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

To this end, the UK construction industry needs to continue to take the lead in sustainable building and find a way of delivering cost-effective and comfortable zero carbon

buildings. It is best achieved by taking a strategic overview of the requirements for a sustainable built environment, feeding this back into the development of existing leading tools that are operating in the UK.

Working to create and strengthen links, metrics and promotion of sustainability labels and guidance would have a dramatic effect both in terms of accessibility and in
contributing to the development of policy and industry strategies.

The international dimension is paramount in taking this forward. Many client organisations, not to mention players in the construction and property sectors, do not restrict their operations to the UK or even European contexts. Increased international benchmarking and mapping of standards are vital. Drivers and needs vary considerably between climates, regulatory frameworks and, indeed, social and cultural priorities, and so there is an acute need for a flexible and ever-evolving sustainability rating system such as BREEAM that can be adapted for use throughout the world.