Most specifiers will be aware of BREEAM, the world-leading sustainability assessment method for infrastructure and buildings. In March 2018, BRE – the organisation behind this world-renowned standard – released the updated BREEAM UK New Construction (NC) guidelines to maintain best practice concerning evolving technology, knowledge and regulations.
Getting a building accredited takes time and investment, so it is fair to expect that a client will want the design team and/or specifier to maximise return on investment by maximising the number of credits they can achieve. Therefore, design teams need to be looking at the appropriate guidelines right from project conception, especially as some credits in BREEAM NC 2018 are only achievable at the concept design stage, before planning permission is applied for. Any later and you will already be on the back foot; ultimately, limiting the number of credits that can be achieved.
Knowledge is essential here; there are some significant differences between what is required for BREEAM NC 2014 and BREEAM NC 2018. So, for a start, you need to know which version of BREEAM your project is registered to and then, in turn, what questions to ask manufacturers and what documents/evidence you need them to supply. With recent changes, there are even more details to be aware of; so working with manufacturers who have the expertise delivers dividends.
Although roofing membranes can be considered in many sections of BREEAM, it should be no surprise that, no matter which version of BREEAM you are using, the Materials (MAT) category is where many of the credits for construction products can be gained. However, when comparing this category in the BREEAM NC 2014 technical manual to that of the BREEAM NC 2018 version, there are several significant differences that architects and specifiers will need to be aware of to ensure the accreditation process runs smoothly and results in the desired rating.
So, what are the biggest differences?
In BREEAM NC 2014, section MAT 01 is called ‘Life Cycle Impacts’ and considers the life-cycle assessment (LCA) of a project, looking at the construction materials through their lifespan from raw materials and manufacturing to application, use and disposal. Credits are awarded per element (e.g. roof including coverings) and evidenced via Green Guide ratings and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) but an EPD points uplift is only available if a Green Guide rating is available. Whereas in BREEAM NC 2018 this section is known as ‘Environmental Impact from Construction Products – Building Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)’ and it covers the LCA of a building using the BREEAM Simplified Building LCA tool, IMPACT or an IMPACT-compliant tool. The credits awarded are affected by the stage that the LCA is conducted at and this is evidenced by EPDs only. In fact, Green Guide ratings are not referenced once in the new 2018 guidelines, which is a monumental shift for manufacturers, architects and specifiers.
BREEAM NC 2014’s MAT 02 ‘Hard landscaping and boundary protection’ section has changed to ‘Environmental Impact from Construction Products – Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)’ in BREEAM BC 2018. This section is designed to increase the amount and quality of EPD data available by awarding points to Type III EPDs that have been independently verified and issued according to ISO 14025 and – for construction products – are compliant with either the ISO 21930 standard or EN 15804 standard. Here, points are collated per product type (e.g. glass, metal, timber); not element (e.g. roof, walls, windows).
Also, unlike BREEAM NC 2014 and the Green Guide, it is not a product/systems impact that determines the number of points scored, but rather what type of EPD a product/system has. If the EPD is specific to the product and manufacturer, it will receive more EPD points than a multi-product/manufacturer EPD. However, as there are subtle nuances (such as the colour, weight, thickness etc.) of products and systems that need to be considered, and while BREEAM assessors are getting used to this change, it may be advisable to check with BRE how many points the EPD for your proposed product/system will score.
The transitional phase
Although project registration to BREEAM NC 2014 stopped on 23rd March 2018, there are reportedly over 4000 buildings registered to the BREEAM 2014 scheme that have not undergone either a design stage assessment or a post-construction assessment. As most new construction projects take several years to reach completion, there will be a transition phase, which is currently expected to last until 2023, where the old (2014) and new (2018) BREEAM standards will be run in tandem allowing projects registered to BREEAM NC 2014 time to reach completion. As a consequence of moving away from the Green Guide, it is expected that the number of product-/manufacturer-specific Green Guide ratings – which are only valid for three years – will significantly decrease over the next few years. This will be due to manufacturers deciding that the return of interest is not sufficient to warrant the significant investment required to acquire new Green Guide ratings.
However, BRE has advised that points will still be credited at the final assessment stage even if a product’s rating is no longer valid, provided the material-/manufacturer-specific Green Guide rating was valid and included in the building’s design stage assessment.
With sustainability at the top of the global agenda, there is an ever-growing need for product manufacturers to be more transparent about their products. By doing this, we can help specifiers create developments that are not only useful and aesthetically pleasing but also enhance the wellbeing of the people who live and work in them; while minimising impact and protecting natural resources.