Study challenges belief that green buildings carry high cost premium

Perceptions that sustainable buildings are more expensive to construct have been challenged by new research, which has found that achieving lower BREEAM ratings can incur little or no additional cost.

The study undertaken by Sweett Group and BRE applied cost data from real construction projects to three case study buildings – an office, secondary school and community healthcare centre – to produce detailed capital and operational cost information.

It examined the actual costs of a range of individual sustainability strategies, plus additional costs (if any) of achieving various levels of overall building sustainability. The research also looked at the associated payback to be gained from reduced utility costs.

Specific aspects studied included the capital costs of measures to improve sustainability, including readily usable no or low cost measures, along with those that must be built into the project early on to minimise their costs.

The costs associated with gaining Pass, Good, Very Good and Excellent ratings under the BREEAM sustainability rating scheme were considered, along with the lifecycle costs of operating buildings through energy and water consumption.

The research found that specifying sustainability measures during the design and procurement stages can bring cost savings without adding significantly, or at all, to upfront costs.

Targeting the higher BREEAM ratings, and more challenging levels of sustainability, incurs some additional cost, but this is typically less than 2%. The investigation of lifecycle operational costs showed that any additional cost can be paid back within two to five years through utility savings.

The study also highlighted some practical steps that contractors can take to improve the overall sustainability performance of a building. These include installing a rainwater harvesting system, dual flush toilets, dedicated recycling areas with good access, and insulation material that carries a low environmental impact.

Overall the findings emphasise the need to factor in more sustainable measures from the outset in a new build to drive costs down. One of the report authors, BRE’s Yetunde Abdul, said the study adds to a growing body of work on the costs and value of sustainability.

“It provides further strong evidence that a sustainable approach need not add significantly to building costs. And, where there are additional capital costs, these can be repaid relatively quickly through the reduced costs of operating the building,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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