On 2nd August 2017 we reached Earth Overshoot Day.
You’d be forgiven for thinking we were talking about a disaster movie starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. You would also be half right, it is a disaster but it isn’t a movie.
Earth Overshoot Day marked the moment we began consuming more natural resources than the Earth can sustain. We are officially running out.
Far from a proud moment in the history of humanity, it signals a tipping point that only a concerted global effort in sustainability and innovation can hope to halt.
Scientists and engineers around the globe are scrambling to find new sustainable materials that could conceivably replace our current dependencies.
How likely and how soon those innovations will come to light, let alone be implemented on a large scale is anyone’s guess. In the meantime it falls to everyone else to try and use resources as wisely, as ethically and as sustainably as possible.
BREEAM or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method began life in the 1990s as a 20 page document intended for new office developments that only reviewed a handful of issues compared to the modern day version.
In 1998 BREEAM underwent a revamp to not only expand its remit to include more buildings – such as superstores – but more areas of sustainability and ecology. Weightings were also introduced to highlight the importance of particular categories.
So great have been the revisions and amendments over the years that the 2011 edition is over 400 pages and can be used to assess more or less any building type in the world.
It exist to assess the long term sustainability of a building project, apply a rating and make recommendations on how those ratings can be improved upon.
In addition to swelling by 1900% of its original size, the current BREEAM document is far more comprehensive and far more holistic than its forebears. As time wore on the BRE realised that sustainability and energy are intertwined with all aspects of the building process as well as the impact of the building after its completion.
The current BREEAM assessment is broken down into 9 categories:
- Health & Wellbeing
- Land Use and Ecology
It’s hard to argue that any of these things aren’t important when it comes to creating any kind of permanent structure. Local authorities broadly agree with increasingly stringent requirements placed on building designs with harsh penalties in place should those ratings not be met.
As space to build is in ever greater demand the government is in a position where it needs to ensure that any building that goes up is worth keeping up.
The NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) states that there is a presumption of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking’. Or to put it another way – developers are expected to behave in a sustainably conscientious way.
This is echoed in the London Plan that requires developers to meet carbon targets or be expected to pay hefty offset fees.
Moreover many Boroughs are also expecting developers to show how they have engaged with BREEAM before planning.
BREEAM is important simply because it’s one of those rare moments where good business, ethics and sustainability intermesh to produce the best building, using the best materials, resulting in the best possible outcome for the environment.
Sustainable buildings are worth more than ones that aren’t. Developments that receive a high BREEAM rating will often benefit from lower running costs because it’s naturally more energy efficient.
Also this has the added benefit of creating a more pleasant working environment so businesses are not only more likely to pay higher rates but occupy those buildings for longer.
To date 425,000 BREEAM certificates have been issues on 24,000 projects but that number is rising quickly. Where the challenge lies in an inconsistent approach to what the requirements are across the country.
Some local authorities, through more relaxed BREEAM requirements are effectively incentivising developers to build less sustainable buildings which is woefully short sighted.
It’s impossible to tell what the future will hold, only that the Earth Overshoot Day has been and gone and we’re a few decades late coming up with a solution.
All we can do is ensure that whatever endeavours we set our minds to are achieved in the most sustainable way possible.