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BREEAM In-Use - closing the loopJune 2009

BREEAM has always been good at rewarding good design intentions. What it couldn't do was be a reliable measure of a building's actual sustainability. Things might change with BREEAM In-Use, as James Parker reports.

The gap between design aspiration and operational performance has become a hot topic, with new and refurbished buildings being measured and rated on a host of aspects to get through planning and to comply with Building Regulations. Last year the first formal scheme for measuring operational energy came into force: the DEC (Display Energy Certificate). Now there's an assessment scheme for measuring the environmental performance of buildings - BREEAM In-Use.

BREEAM In-Use, launched by BRE at Ecobuild in March 2009, is marketed as more than just a way of checking a design BREEAM rating after occupation. It's also touted as a way of highlighting problem areas, showing the way to improve performance, and as a way to demonstrate actual commitment to actual corporate social responsibility. But is this what facilities managers and building owners need and want?

How the scheme works

The BREEAM In-Use scheme is split into three parts: asset performance (the building), building management performance (the operation of the building), and organisational effectiveness (how occupiers manage their activities within a building).

The BREEAM In-Use assessment scheme

Each of these produces a separate rating. The process leads to a certificate based on three ratings (Table 1).

All three parts of the rating scheme use the same categories as existing BREEAM schemes, specifically energy, water, materials and waste, health and well-being, pollution, transport, land use and ecology and management. The weightings of the different categories differ in each part of the assessment, as each category covers slightly different things. For example, there is no management in the asset performance part and no transport in the building management part. However, energy has the highest weighting of all categories in all parts (Table 2).

How BREEAM In-Use weighs the environmental criteria

The biggest difference between BREEAM In-Use and the other BREEAM schemes is the process of assessment. With BREEAM In-Use the bulk of the work is carried out by the client in the form of an online self-assessment tool. Each credit issue is assessed on a three-tier level with increasing detail as the tiers progress.

Tier one information should be easily available and allows the tool to make simple assumptions. Typical questions would be 'Is a green travel policy in place?' The second tier builds on this and refines the assumptions with questions like 'how is car parking managed on site to encourage other forms of transport?' The third tier is a full detailed assessment where the exact value or similar would be used. The assumptions are mainly against discrete criteria, with some answers available from multiple-choice drop-down lists.

The online tool allows individuals within an organisation to be assigned to complete the different sections or questions, so the assessment process can be linked to an individual's job responsibilities. The assessment can also be changed over time as the organisation improves the performance of its assets, as the building is extended, or as more buildings are added to the property portfolio. If an organisation wants a formal certificate it can hire a BREEAM assessor who would assess the inputs into the online tool and certify the rating.

The other key difference between BREEAM In-Use and the other BREEAM schemes is that the certificates have a limited validity. The certificates expire after three years for single asset assessments, and after just one year for portfolios and Part 3-only assessments.

Doing an assessment

How much effort does all this take? BRE says that the development of BREEAM In-Use was driven by the need to assess a building within a few hours.

Nine of EDF Energy's offices were assessed in the pilot study of BREEAM In-Use. EDF intend to use BREEAM In-Use as a tool to help the company meet its climate commitment.

EDF Energy was the main sponsor and project partner in the development of BREEAM In-Use. Speaking at Ecobuild, Tom Saunders, manager of special projects in BRE's Sustainability Group, said that EDF Energy requested that an assessment should only take three hours. BRE managed to get it down to four hours. Considering the time it takes to carry out a traditional BREEAM assessment (anything from four days to four months) this is a huge improvement.

EDF was heavily involved in the pilot programme for the scheme, and the assessment of nine of their buildings has proved the quickness of the process, as it only took a total of 12 days of effort to do all the assessments. So it appears the assessment is easy to do, at least in terms of the time taken.

BREEAM In-Use is also relatively cheap at just £100 per asset (a building). But will there be strong take-up from the facilities management industry as the BRE hopes?

The obvious motivation is being seen to be green. This is high on many company agendas, as is saving money in a time when cash is scarce.

Carol Atkinson, the Chief Executive of BRE Global, believes these will be the two major drivers: "The environmental performance of an organisation's built assets is a key factor in its sustainability credentials and carbon footprint," she said. "Operating a building also represents a major cost. With increasing energy prices and the current economic outlook, cutting energy, water, waste and other such costs can be a relatively easy way of improving profitability," added Atkinson.

These were the main drivers in EDF's decision to partner BRE in the development of the scheme as the head of facilities management at EDF Energy, Simon Marshall, explained. "We have pledged to reduce carbon emissions from our offices and depots by 30 per cent by 2012. This is part of EDF's climate commitment, the biggest package of environmental initiatives announced by a major UK energy company," he said. "Energy use in our buildings has already decreased and this partnership will help us reduce it further," added Marshall.

Competitor schemes

BREEAM In-Use is not the only tool for assessing the operation of an existing building. LEED introduced an O&M version of its Existing Building scheme in 2008, for which there are three buildings registered in the UK1all on the Green Park business park in Reading.

Looking at the project register on the USGBC's website, there are only 22 buildings certified under this scheme, all in the US, while there are 936 buildings registered across 15 countries. Of course the vast majority of these buildings are in the US.

Up until 2006 the standard office and retail versions of BREEAM included a management and operation assessment option. However, this was largely based on the base building. BSRIA found that these modules were not widely used.

Australia is also developing its own operational assessment tool by adding a module for existing offices to the building version of the Greenstar rating tool. At the time of writing this was still in an extended pilot stage.

Are we there yet?

It appears that there is mixed interest in operational assessment tools. The US experience appears to be positive, mainly with the large corporations wanting to prove their sustainable credentials. However, the UK is a different environment.

The plus points for the BREEAM In-Use scheme is that it links into other rating tools, which buildings are required to have anyway, such as Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates. BREEAM In-Use is also advertised as being useful to gaining and maintaining ISO 14001 accreditation.

The self-assessment element should also be looked at favourably by owners and facilities managers as it will allow them to benchmark their buildings and see where improvements can be made to maximise the certified rating.

The flip side of this is that there is no mandatory requirement to have an assessment (apart from buildings that gain an Outstanding rating in a BREEAM building assessment which must have an assessment or be downgraded to excellent).

Take up of BREEAM In-Use is therefore likely to be initially restricted to large corporations such as EDF, where there is the added benefit of being able to compare the performance of different buildings in a large estate. Corporate social responsibility will also be a driver, but to what extent as the recession bites is a moot point.

BRE certainly has faith in the concept of BREEAM In-Use. It is offering free training courses to the first 500 people who apply to become assessors. Will there be a flood of applications from facilities managers? Doubtless the well-oiled BRE press machine will tell us, if and when it happens.

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