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Brie what? BREEAM, sustainability in a label

Interior of the Goede Doelen Loterijen building, opened on 6 December 2018. It was awarded the highest sustainability certificate.

We demand that all office buildings in Zuidas have BREEAM Excellent certification at the very least – or another certificate attesting to an equivalent level of sustainability. That is the second-highest rating. The highest is BREEAM Outstanding. Buildings that have the honour of being able to call themselves BREEAM Outstanding include the Goede Doelen Loterijen, The Edge and the NoMA House. But what exactly is BREEAM?

Dutch Green Building Council

The acronym stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. BREEAM is an instrument of the Dutch Green Building Council. This organisation set itself the aim of improving the sustainability of the built environment and developed the BREEAM NL label for that purpose. We spoke to Edwin van Noort, who is responsible for Development and Management at the Dutch Green Building Council. Why did his organisation initiate BREEAM? Van Noort: ‘Back in 2008 there was a ‘most sustainable building’ being opened somewhere every single month. Architects were quick to assume that their buildings were the most sustainable ever. So, our task was to develop a broad standard capable of independently establishing the sustainability of a building. A company like ABN AMRO, for example, needed something like this because the interest accounts and loans that they provide for buildings depend on the sustainability of those buildings.’ In 2008, ABN AMRO was one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Dutch Green Building Council, alongside real estate fund Redevco, construction company Dura Vermeer, INBO Architects and SBR, the knowledge institute for construction.

Didn’t sustainability labels already exist then?

‘There was the energy label, which assessed how much energy a building needed. There was also the Municipal Practical Guideline for Buildings (GPR), which looks at energy and the materials used in a building. To avoid reinventing the wheel, we asked Delft University of Technology to assess and compare all the different standards.’

Why did you opt for BREEAM?

‘What makes BREEAM so useful is that it’s an internationally recognised label. This is very important for international players wishing to set up business in Zuidas. BREEAM also takes account of all aspects of sustainability. For example, it assesses energy and materials, but also water, health, transport to and from the building and the construction process itself.’

Is determining the BREEAM rating a complicated process?

‘Determining the rating is not so complicated, but demonstrating it is a different matter. First of all, you need a consultant, one of the approximately 1,500 BREEAM experts we’ve trained in the Netherlands. You then need to hire an assessor to check if everything is accurate. The assessor always has to be independent and not part of the construction team. Even during the design of the building, they check that things are on the right track. But they also inspect the construction site to ensure that water-saving toilets are actually being installed, for example. They also conduct several more inspections when the building is almost completely finished. After that, the Dutch Green Building Council does a quality check, to check up on the assessor.’

Aren’t all these inspections and controls extremely expensive?

‘We’re talking different prices than what you’d pay for an energy label for a house. All in all, it quickly mounts up to tens of thousands of euros. The exact amount depends on the ambition. For the highest rating – Outstanding – everything needs to be perfect down to the finer details. It’s a lot of money, but a building in Zuidas can easily cost a hundred million euros. So, for developers, the cost of BREEAM is just peanuts really.’

Circular building Circl, which can be completely rebuilt elsewhere
Jan Vonk

Is there anything still missing in BREEAM-NL?

‘We recently explored whether BREEAM could also be used to assess the circularity of a building. The main thing I noticed is that there are many different views on what exactly circular entails. There’s one aspect of circularity that BREEAM does not yet effectively assess: Can you take a building apart and rebuild it elsewhere? We are now working out how we can make that measurable.’

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