The importance of BREEAM for the built environment industry

The role that buildings play in climate change is under the microscope.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that buildings consume 40 per cent of global energy and produce a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions1. Integrating smart technology into new builds and retrofitting on existing sites is therefore becoming a long-term strategic decision for companies as they manage evolving environmental legislation. In this area, therefore, clear regulations and robust certifications programs are key to effect the urgent change and acceleration of measures needed to meet sustainability goals. 

If we act now, there is still time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals relevant to the construction industry, and follow the roadmap of the European Green Deal. To meet this challenge, we need to approach sustainability holistically, with a triple bottom line (TBL) framework, that focuses as much on social and environmental concerns as it does on profits. As a passionate advocate of sustainable and circular business practices, I support the TBL theory. It posits that instead of one bottom line, there should be three: profit, people, and the planet. 

But what makes a building sustainable, and how do you prove it for the stakeholders who are increasingly looking to evidence their status? One way is to use a sustainability assessment method for buildings such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) certification.  

We are incredibly proud to have completed the assessment for some of our Electrification products and solutions, which, once installed, will improve the performance of buildings according to the BREAAM certifications. Our solutions have been recognized according to three BREEAM certifications for the international, British and Dutch markets. But I consider this milestone more than just a feather in our cap. The product and solutions, especially in the categories of energy management, health & wellbeing and water & waste management carry major advantages for architects, developers, real estate companies, consultants and specifiers—advantages that go beyond the need to ‘do the right thing’. 

I argue that, however you look at it, pursuing green certifications is simply good business. 

The why and what of BREEAM 

To meet the 2030 emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement, the construction sector needs to significantly increase the rate of building energy efficiency renovations. And it needs to address existing renovations, as well as the generation and procurement of renewable energy.  

In a nutshell, BREEAM exists to assess the long-term sustainability of a building project, apply a rating and make recommendations on how those ratings can be improved. Our customers use it to ensure that buildings are compliant in terms of sustainable construction, operation and design. The certification provides a versatile assessment framework spanning the full spectrum of activity including in-use, renovation and refurbishment schemes, as well as new developments. With more than a third of developers pursuing a BREEAM certification, its popularity and significance in the industry cannot be overstated. And its popularity continues to grow. 

Benefits throughout the value chain 

I believe that sustainability certification is becoming increasingly important for several reasons. From a growing number of requirements imposed by local authorities to numerous social, economic and health- and community-related benefits, sustainability measures in buildings have become an integral part of the modern investor’s checklist and decision-making process. 

Naturally, these standards have also contributed to a greater focus on development strategies that minimize construction waste, reduce CO2 emissions, and safeguard biotopes and wildlife habitats. These are quantifiable benefits that are realizable across the spectrum of stakeholders—from developer to owner to tenant.  

Another crucial benefit of certification relates to the identity of building and architectural firms in a highly scrutinized market.  Innovate UK (formerly the UK Technology Strategy Board) describes it as a way for companies to “differentiate themselves in a competitive market with a highly visible, authoritative and internationally recognized quality mark”. Going even deeper, the survey conducted by UK-based, non-profit Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) on the value of BREEAM suggests that, from a ‘social perspective’, industry recognition is the most significant benefit, followed by advantages in public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR). In fact, approximately 40 percent of the developers surveyed considered CSR one of the main reasons to pursue certification. 

The developer’s perspective: The report by the World Green Building Council makes the ‘Business case for green building’. It suggests that the sales prices of certified green buildings increased by up to 30 percent compared to conventional code-compliant buildings. In addition, according to the Urban Land Institute, future-proofing assets, improving resilience, and reducing risks are vital considerations for the real estate industry. 

The owner’s perspective: According to the same report, certification can increase rental rates for buildings by up to 24.9 percent compared to conventional, code-compliant buildings. The 2014 DLA Piper report suggests that 38 percent of respondents identified value preservation or increase as the prime benefit of sustainable real estate, followed by reputation (18 percent) and reduction of energy costs (15 percent). Add to this the lower operating costs associated with sustainability-focused initiatives and the business case for green buildings becomes even more attractive. 

The tenant’s perspective: The research paper on Benchmarking energy use of building environmental assessment schemes (Lee, 2012) analyzes the characteristics of different certification schemes and shows that BREEAM takes into consideration operation and performance data—a characteristic that differentiates it from its competitors. This is reinforced by the BSRIA Value of BREEAM survey, in which 43 percent of respondents identified operational cost savings among the benefits of BREEAM. In particular, the report emphasizes how BREEAM encourages the use of intelligent controls and smart metering, which can facilitate effective maintenance and performance and thus reduce associated costs. 

Easy does it 

First and foremost, I see this certification as a testament to our resolve to remain a key contributor to the circular economy and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Underlying this position is a shared conviction that BREEAM can help reduce the negative effects of construction. As we move forward, I will be especially interested in how the positive effects of our product contribution toward credits with the BREEAM assessed buildings translate into greater benefits for our customers, and how it impacts the use of materials on construction sites.  

Of course, as every business knows, simply having great technology is not enough. Our philosophy is based on the tenet that great technology needs to be engineered with ease as its core principle—from ease of purchase and installation to ease of support. Seen in this light, our products providing BREAAM credits are a key step in the journey we embark on with our customers: making it easier to provide sustainable benefits to the built environment. 

Learn more about how ABB products and solutions can contribute to BREEAM Building certification here.  


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About the author

Marie-Sofie Seger

Marie-Sofie leads sustainability initiatives in ABB’s Smart Buildings division. Together with the global and local functional teams, she embeds sustainability practices and the circular economy in everyday business which contributes to a more sustainable built environment. She also leads the circular economy implementation for ABB Group. Marie-Sofie graduated with honors from the Aalto University School of Chemical Engineering as M.Sc. Tech in 2018. She began her professional career working with sustainability in the ABB Wiring Accessories unit in Porvoo, Finland. In this role she managed the first project where post-consumer recycled material was implemented in wiring products. Marie-Sofie continued her career by developing the ABB Smart Buildings circular economy initiative together with a cross-functional team. This was followed by her appointment as Circular Economy Product Innovation Manager for the ABB Smart Buildings Global Product Group BHAS, where she works together with the business functions responsible for embedding circular economy considerations in the business.
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