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Measure of success: Tools to assess the eco impact

Contractors need ways to prove their environmental credentials in the built industry. Irena Saniuk draws a global map of the main environmental assessment methods
It all started with BREEAM, arguably the grandee of all building environmental assessment methods. The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, to give it its original title, is celebrating its 21st birthday. In its teenage years, similar methodologies for rating building sustainability popped up. What they all share is a love of acronyms: LEED, GPRS and HQE to name but three.

At least 23 of the 83 green building councils around the world have developed their own certification schemes. Countries that have not yet finished forming a nationally appropriate system have adapted one or more of the existing schemes. Many have gone beyond the original concept laid down by BREEAM. Some - such as the Green Building Product Certification Scheme launched by the Singapore Green Building Council in 2010 - have adopted product certification standards.

Given that there is now a global mosaic of building environmental rating schemes, we need to know their features, their purpose and the costs of using them. The main schemes are described in this article, with associated schemes in use around the world shown in the illustration above. This also shows LEED International Roundtable members including the countries with LEED-certified buildings (blue dots) and countries with BREEAM-certified buildings under 2008 schemes onwards (orange dots).

Assessment schemes
Launched in 1990, BREEAM is used to assess buildings of any type. It has been a successful British export and is used all over the world, and has been the basis for many other schemes such as LEED (USA) and Green Star (Australia).

Country-specific schemes have been launched in the Netherlands (BREEAM NL) and Spain (BREEAM ES). Schemes for Sweden and Norway (BREEAM SE and BREEAM NOR) are under development and will soon operate under license from the operating company, BRE Global.

The latest version - BREEAM New Construction 2011 - is designed to keep pace with improvements in UK construction practice. It tightens the targets for construction site waste. It also allows users to demonstrate compliance with sustainable procurement through the use of BSRIA's Soft Landings process, published as the Soft Landings Framework, or through carrying out a thermographic survey to confirm continuity of insulation, avoidance of excessive thermal bridging and avoidance of air leakage paths through the fabric.

Around 200,000 certificates have been issued since the BREEAM scheme started. To date, at least 680 buildings have been certified (of which over 205 have final certification) under the 2008 or newer versions of BREEAM. More than 70 are outside the UK.

Certification fees for BREEAM vary from £1,170 to £3,650 depending on project type. BRE also levies additional fees such as registration.

BREEAM In Use Certification Scheme, re-launched last year as an online tool, concentrates purely on existing building stock in the UK. It covers three aspects of their performance, i.e. asset (part 1), building management (part 2) and organisational effectiveness (part 3). All three aspects are assessed independently and the certificate is valid for one year.

As of the time of writing (November 2011), more than 175 buildings are certified under part 1, 160 under part 2 and 25 under part 3. The first two parts are relevant to all non-domestic commercial, industrial, retail and institutional buildings, while part 3 is currently relevant only to offices. The cost of the certificate issued against any of the parts is £250 per asset.

Although launched in 2009, the origin of the Ska system goes back to 2005 when Skansen, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and building services consultant AECOM began a research project on environmental impact of an office fit-out.

Ska was fully revised last year. Sarah Birchall, accredited Ska assessor at BSRIA, explains how it works. 'Rather than being a whole building assessment method, Ska is solely designed to rate the environmental performance of fitout projects, i.e. there are no criteria being assessed that are outside the control of the project. For example, a pulsed water meter is considered only if the modification of water services is within the scope of the fit-out.

'The Ska assessment can be carried out at three stages: design, handover and occupancy. However, only the handover and occupancy stage assessments can be formally certified. Initially for office building only, a new retail version of Ska is scheduled for launch in 2012. To date, 14 Ska certificates have been issued in the UK. The cost of the certificate issued at any of the stages is £60.'

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification system developed by the US Green Building Council in 1998. Like BREEAM, LEED certification is available for all building types including new construction, existing buildings, shell and core, and fit-out. It also covers domestic dwellings, which, in the UK, are covered by the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Successfully modified
The system has been successfully modified and adopted by many countries including India, Canada, Italy and Brazil. In addition, more than 20 countries have joined the LEED International Roundtable. To date, a total of 8,979 LEED certificates have been issued worldwide. The certification fee varies from $2,250 to $27,500 depending on a project's rating ambitions, size, and whether the applicant is a member of the US Green Buildings Council.

Launched in 2002, Green Star is a rating system developed by the Green Building Council of Australia and modelled on BREEAM and LEED. Countryspecific versions are also used in New Zealand and South Africa. To date, 380 Green Star certificates have been issued in Australia. The certification fee varies from AUD 8,000 to 33,000 depending on the size of the project and membership of the Green Building Council of Australia.

The DGNB (Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Nachhaltiges Bauen) certification system was developed in 2009 by the German Sustainable Building Council. As with the other systems described here, the DGNB covers all the relevant issues of sustainable construction. DGNB system is organised around six so-called qualities: ecology, economy, socio-cultural and functional issues, techniques, processes, and the site. To date, 81 buildings have been certified using the DGNB Certification system, including those located in Austria, Switzerland and Luxemburg. Some countries, such as Hungary, have developed their own rating based on DGNB system. The certification fee varies from €1,600 to €20,000. As with BREEAM, other fees such as registration may apply.

The main difference between the various national assessment systems is the weight they give to different categories. These naturally follow the climate and local culture of the region, which results in rating systems tailored to account for the unique environmental, ecological, social, cultural, economical and technological conditions.

For example, Japan's Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE) is more concerned about land use, while UAE's Estidama (sustainability in Arabic) not surprisingly stresses the importance of water conservation.

Assessment criteria
In some of the systems, a building has to score against all the criteria so a client or designer cannot select the assessment criteria. So, if a building is weak in one category, it will be penalised for not earning a credit. A common practice is also having mandatory credits/measures that have to be gained in order to achieve a desirable rating level (e.g. BREEAM: pass, good, very good, excellent, outstanding, Ska: bronze, silver, gold).

In some countries the assessment of a building cannot be separated from its local environment. For example, a building will be marked down on its sustainability if local health and educational systems are weak or non-existent. Also, the time to complete assessments varies between schemes.

Most green ratings around the world tend to be voluntary systems. The unanswered question is how quickly they will become an essential aspect of all planning applications contributing to the sustainable development.

Irrespective of the timing, there is one other common trait of global rating systems: a trend for both the process and the assessment criteria to become progressively more demanding and more complicated. This leaves the construction industry worrying about the effect on building development, and, more importantly, what effect it might have on the environment and on building occupants.

For green rating schemes to have a future, construction industries around the world need to be provided with tangible proof from the schemes' operators that increasingly demanding rating systems will actually make a positive difference, not just add cost and complication.

Green certification must add value to all, not become a souvenir trinket.

// The author is BREEAM assessor at BSRIA //
1 February 2012

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