The global bid to reach net zero carbon marches on, and building certifications are playing a major role in the process. In the United States real estate industry, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification is practically ubiquitous, while U.K.-based BRE Global’s BREEAM, a global certification for the sustainable built environment, is the standard. BREEAM is starting to catch on in the states, though, in 2022, the number of domestic BREEAM-certified properties soared a whopping 160 percent year-over-year. BRE introduced BREEAM, or the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, in 1990 with the goal of metamorphosing the built environment through science-centric sustainability standards. And now, BRE is in the midst of hammering out a massive update of the certification program, this time with a focus on carbon and energy management.
BREEAM has continued to evolve as science’s role in sustainability has progressed, but the stimulus behind the new version is not just keeping up with cutting-edge science but also assisting the real estate and construction industries in addressing their most pressing concern. A staggering 92 percent of respondents to a BRE poll pointed to net zero carbon transition as the principal growth opportunity for the environment. “There’s an increasing focus on measuring and reducing carbon output in the built environment. As a result of this, now is the right time to update our assessment, especially in the areas of energy and net zero carbon, to help the industry achieve its ambition and push for more ambitious targets to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings,” a BRE Group spokesperson said.
BRE announced plans to launch their updated standards in May 2023 and simultaneously called on industry stakeholders to help define the updated standards by participating in a public consultation. QAD Architects was among the many players in the built environment industry that took part in the consultation, which was open for roughly five weeks and concluded on June 30. The new versions will constitute the first modular update of the certification, instituting progressive energy and net carbon science in the New Construction, In-Use Commercial & Residential, and Refurbishment & Fit-Out certification categories. BRE confirmed that it is not yet in a position to share the insights gained from the consultation. However, BRE previously disclosed some of the updates that will be included in their newest revision, which they are calling V7.
On the energy side, BREEAM’s V7 will feature amended criteria related to energy performance. Most notably, the changes will provide enhanced synchronization between BREEAM and ENERGY STAR, allowing for efficient data transfer between the two platforms. The majority of the revisions that will be incorporated into the new version center on whole life carbon, specifically the measuring and documenting of carbon emissions and embodied carbon. For example, the revised version will offer the ability to report against established net zero trajectories, including the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM). With BREEAM V7, owners and operators will be able to monitor net zero performance in a way that allows for the rapid assessment of the environmental performance of a property or entire portfolio, thereby pinpointing areas for improvement.
BREEAM’s Version 7 will also introduce an assessment process not available in other certification programs with the integration of global embodied carbon benchmarks. The process will provide users with the means of making more educated choices in materials and products. Additional features will include the incorporation of enhanced data quality to serve as a backbone for consistent data capture across the BREEAM standards suite. This new focus will mark a substantial step forward in BRE’s objective of assisting property owners in meeting sustainability goals, particularly achieving net zero.
With the closing of the consultation period, BRE is now busy undertaking the task of analyzing the feedback in an effort to hone the update. BRE will release a report on its findings from the consultation in late October. The next step is a development phase that will include the updating of the pertinent manuals, guidance, training, and systems. V7 is on track to make its debut in 2024 in a staggered format, beginning with the New Construction category, followed by In-Use, and finally, Refurbishment & Fit-Out.
The recrafting of BREEAM standards is a timely endeavor. Energy conservation once took center stage in the world of sustainable buildings, but the sobering fact that the built environment generates 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and the consequences of that fact have compelled leaders to act worldwide. In the commercial real estate industry, certifications like BREEAM not only serve as evidence of actions taken to move toward net zero emissions or achieve greater sustainability, but they also act as a magnet for employers to attract and retain sustainability-minded workers or for multifamily owners to satisfy pro-green tenants. The new focus on sustainability by building certifications is yet another signal that decarbonization is something that the industry is concerned about in order to both be appealing to occupiers and investors with sustainability mandates.