Better buildings

Tom Harvey of the Building Research Establishment explains BREEAM Offices 2004

BRE has just launched BREEAM Offices 2004, an update of what is probably the best-known version of its environmental labelling scheme for buildings. Driven by changes in legislation and progress in understanding best practice, it introduces new opportunities for clients and designers to demonstrate a building's credentials to an increasingly environmentally conscious marketplace.

Most of the changes involve relatively minor amendments to the scheme, but there are a number of more fundamental changes that are worth highlighting.

What is new for 2004? Land use and ecology

Construction can often have a detrimental effect on the ecological value of a site. However, this category highlights the measures that can be taken to ensure that surrounding biodiverse habitats can be maintained and can thrive, both during construction and throughout the building's life. The basic approach has been amended to fall in line with government KPIs. A specific example is the credit introduced to reward long-term management for maintaining, protecting and enhancing site biodiversity.

Construction sites

There has been a recent increase in the number of independent schemes that monitor the impact of a construction site on its surroundings. Previous versions of BREEAM awarded credits for complying with the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS). While the CCS remains the principal means of complying, the 2004 version has been extended to recognise equivalent, independently audited schemes. A detailed checklist is included to maintain consistency between schemes.


As buildings are responsible for around half of the UK's CO2 emissions, this is an extremely important issue for the construction industry. With this in mind, the CO2 conversion figures have been updated in line with current data. The conversion factor for grid electricity has significantly increased, reflecting fuel changes in powerstations.

This may result in the CO2 credits being slightly harder to achieve.


Timber is currently a hot topic within the construction industry, with increasing demand from government, industry and the public for the use of supplies from sustainable sources. Huge amounts of timber are used on-site during the construction process, not only for the building structure itself, but also for temporary structures such as hoardings and fencing.

Therefore, in addition to the existing credits for using structural timber from sustainable sources, a credit is now included for specifying/using sustainable timber for all temporary uses during the construction phase.


Typically in speculative offices, floor finishes are installed by the developer to help sell or lease the property. Once the tenant buys or leases the offices, they often replace these floor finishes to match their corporate image or chosen colour scheme, wasting the new carpet installed by the developer.

BREEAM 2004 addresses this issue by rewarding developers who specify that only a small show area will be fitted-out with floor finishes for a speculative building, or who apply finishes that have been specified by the new tenant.


Nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to the build-up of local ozone levels and cause local pollution, as well as more wide-scale pollution in the form of acid rain. Boiler plant can emit substantial levels of NOx during normal operation, however these emissions can be reduced through careful specification of boiler burners. BREEAM 2004 reduces the NOx emission thresholds, as current technologies have improved performance.

Renewable energy

Similarly, the use of renewable energy leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and helps to conserve fossil fuel resources. The government has set a target that 10% of energy in the UK should be generated from renewable sources by 2010. To encourage locally produced zero-emission energy sources and support the government's targets, BREEAM 2004 rewards those developments where 10% of energy consumption is from local renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic and wind turbines.

Seasonal commissioning

Commissioning is vital for ensuring that building services operate efficiently and effectively. Seasonal commissioning ensures that systems such as air conditioning or mechanical ventilation, operate effectively under all weather and occupancy conditions, but as yet this is not typical practice.

However, developers are beginning to include it in their commissioning procedures, so a new credit has been included that rewards a commitment to carry out seasonal commissioning during the first year of occupation.

A balanced approach

The success of the BREEAM schemes lies in the fact that they provide the marketplace with a balanced approach to sustainable development in terms of building design and operation.

They do not demand the perfect solution but promote a process of continuing environmental improvement, encouraging use of the latest technologies, construction methods, and best practice design principles. BREEAM strives to achieve this in a cost-effective and practical way, ensuring market appeal and giving individual buildings recognition where they perform well.

The increasing use of the method by government, planners and RDAs, as well as private-sector developers and occupiers, has provided further impetus to its use. As with all versions of the BREEAM scheme, buildings are assessed against a range of environmental issues with credits awarded for performance - the more credits achieved, the better the final rating. For the best results, the BREEAM criteria should be considered at the very earliest stages of a project and written into the design brief.

BREEAM Offices is part of the BREEAM portfolio that is continually being extended to cover other building sectors. In addition to existing schemes for homes, industrial units and health buildings, BREEAM for Retail Developments was launched in autumn 2003, and schemes for schools and prisons are under development. For buildings not covered by these, BRE can carry out a bespoke BREEAM assessment that is tailored specifically to a particular development.

A minor update to BREEAM Offices will be carried out next year, with the next major revision due in 2006.



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