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Building sustainability assessment schemes: the role of criteria in translating aims into effect

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posted on 2023-08-30, 16:51 authored by Colin Hobart
Building sustainability assessment schemes (BSAS) such as BREEAM and LEED are used to generate a comprehensive design stage assessment of the sustainability of a building. Their use as a means of setting sustainability standards for new and refurbished buildings has achieved international political and commercial acceptance. However, BSAS are widely criticised within academic literature for lacking either a sound theoretical basis or empirical evidence of success. To be effective in their assumed role, BSAS must reliably differentiate buildings in terms of sustainability. In practice the broad range of indicators employed, the range of building types assessed and the lack of any feedback loop make quantitative assessment of efficacy challenging. Consequently, after over 20 years of use it remains unclear to what extent BSAS are effective in stimulating either specific or general sustainability improvements in buildings. This knowledge gap is addressed in this study, through examination of the application of the energy, water and health and wellbeing sections of the BREEAM scheme, to four recently constructed university buildings. A review of assessment reports is combined with a post-occupancy evaluation to enable intended cause and effect paths to be identified and validated. Through examination of this data understanding of previously proposed theoretical limitations is expanded. This facilitates identification of both theoretical and observed strengths and weaknesses within the individual criteria employed. The underlying importance of well-configured criteria in producing overall effect clearly emerges. This allows specific recommendations to be made for their improvement in terms of appropriateness of content, appeal to users, potential for robust evidencing, scope and complexity. Although produced using a single BSAS, the above recommendations have potential to be generalised across similar scheme formats. The research methodology employed has potential to be replicated, with certain refinements, across a range of scheme and building types. The increased understanding of BSAS criteria generated by this study and its potential expansion offer great potential to improve the functional capabilities of BSAS. Given the global importance of managing the sustainability of the built environment and the current lack of any viable alternative to BSAS, any such improvement should be of great interest to scheme operators and policy makers alike.



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