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17 February 2023

BREEAM as a result requirement

Not something you do on the side as a contractor

By Edwin van Eeckhoven, founder C2N

It has become normal for contractors to be required to obtain a BREEAM certificate as a result. If you, as a contractor, are not or hardly familiar with the subject matter, you may be faced with unexpected surprises. BREEAM is not something you just throw in there. Especially since the launch of the new BREEAM-2020, the successor to the 2014 version.

If you want to successfully complete a BREEAM project, then it is important to carefully check which BREEAM risks are present in the contract documents and how to deal with them before entering into a result commitment. Once these have been identified, it is crucial to ensure that the required BREEAM requirements are implemented during design and execution. And thus obtain the certificate. That’s what this blog is about, but first a brief explanation of BREEAM.

BREEAM assesses the sustainability of a building, its location and the design and construction process. The higher the ambition, the more sustainable criteria (=credits) must be achieved. The criteria are laid down in an official assessment guideline (BRL), which is managed by the Dutch Green Building Council (DGBC). The BRL is freely available via the Internet. Courses on interpretation and application of the method can be followed at the DGBC.

However, to have a thorough knowledge of the method, it is crucial to have actively gone through a number of certification procedures.

I mentioned earlier that before signing a contract it is important to check whether a BREEAM commitment is at all feasible. Don’t blindly trust a document drawn up by a third party that shows that a certain BREEAM score is achievable. Experience has shown that these scores are rarely, if ever, accurate. Therefore have an experienced BREEAM expert within your team carry out his own BREEAM Quick-scan, bearing in mind that ‘trust is good, control is better’.

That Quick-scan may reveal various conclusions about the contractual BREEAM ambition:

  • Not achievable in any way
  • Achievable, provided that it is possible to make changes to the plan that are necessary for the BREEAM ambition to be achieved
  • Just achievable, but nothing must go wrong during design and implementation
  • Well achievable, even a higher BREEAM ambition is possible

Performance contracts can also carry other BREEAM-related risks. Think of mandatory milestones that are simply not achievable within a certification or subsidy process. Or the right of a client or tenant to make changes to the plan that are potentially detrimental to the BREEAM score to be achieved. The same applies to a potentially adverse effect of third party works on the required score.

It is wise to identify these BREEAM risks before signing the agreement. You can then weigh up the risks for which you accept no or limited responsibility. How you incorporate this into the final agreement with the client is up to you.

Then the real work begins, achieving the required BREEAM ambition, with the BREEAM certificate issued by the DGBC with the correct score as the ultimate proof.

Parties unfamiliar with the process tend to regard BREEAM as an accessory that can be included at any point in the construction process and filled in as one sees fit. Completely wrong!

BREEAM sets unambiguous requirements for what must be demonstrated at what point and in what way. And, BREEAM is not something you do on your own, but together. It is therefore crucial that, at the start of the project, you hold a kick-off meeting at which all the stakeholders are present who, in one way or another, play a role in obtaining the certificate. The Quick Scan is a useful tool to show what needs to be done by whom and when, what risks there are and how they can be controlled.

During the design process the emphasis is on incorporating the BREEAM requirements (=credits) into the design. BREEAM has a number of mandatory requirements that must be met, otherwise the certificate will not be issued. Other choices relevant to BREEAM must be made at the required times.

BREEAM imposes strict conditions on the burden of proof that the requirements have been correctly incorporated into the design. This evidence must be consistent with each other for interrelated requirements. This is especially the case when a high BREEAM score is prescribed, then everything fits together like clockwork. If the design meets the BREEAM requirements, a BREEAM design certificate is on the horizon.

During construction, the focus is on preventing the loss of BREEAM requirements achieved in the design phase. This means that at the time of commissioning, all requirements for building, permanent fixtures and fittings and site must have been met. And in addition: that the requirements set by BREEAM for the construction process have been met. Only then will the project be eligible for the final certificate, better known as the completion certificate.

During design and implementation, costly moments of failure can occur if the BREEAM expert does not anticipate, monitor and adjust. Agreements made (design, coordination, elaboration, materialisation, time) must be honoured. Risks must be managed. The impact of changes during design and implementation on BREEAM requirements must be investigated. Communication about BREEAM must convince everyone – what needs to be done, why, when, and what does not need to be done.

In short, managing a BREEAM certification is a job with a lot of responsibility. We recommend the appointment of a BREEAM expert who is well versed in BREEAM and has the ability to actively engage with the client, the project team and tenants.