Our senior BREEAM consultant Ivonne Ortega-Nava has seen both sides of a BREEAM project – both as an auditor reviewing a high volume of assessments – and more recently as an assessor.
Here Ivonne explains the differences and challenges, and why we should all be a little more understanding.
Hi Ivonne – why is it important for us to understand the two roles?
I would like to share from my perspective, what I see as the main differences in practice from both roles. I hope that by better understanding the work that each individual performs, we’ll all be less judgemental when receiving feedback from an auditor or an assessor! BREEAM can cause a lot of frustration for all parties, from assessors to contractors and clients, so it can only help to understand our different roles.
What are they assessing?
First of all, the purpose of the BREEAM auditor is to assess the competence of the assessor – not the building itself. This means that the auditor will be reviewing the comments provided by the assessor, how they have confirmed compliance according to the criteria and confirm the rating recommended by the assessor.
The assessor, on the other side has the responsibility to ensure that the design team follows the standards to design and construct a building in accordance with the BREEAM requirements and that it has achieved the desired rating set by developer, owner or planning authority. The assessor is then responsible for applying a rating to the building, which can be benchmarked to other buildings internationally.
What are the evidence requirements?
The auditor should be provided with referenced evidence showing how the BREEAM requirements have been fulfilled, and then decide whether that evidence is addressing the requirements in full. So, must of the time the judgement is black or white and there is no much room for grey – even though we get a lot of grey in any development!
The assessor on the other side, has to find the correct evidence showing that the requirements have been addressed. The truth is that the evidence the assessor receives from the design team does not always satisfy every aspect of the criterion. Specialists may not provide information in the right format, unless templates or guidance are provided to them.
A common assumption is that the auditor will be as familiarized as the assessor with the building and it’s drawings. In reality, the auditor only has one chance to look at the evidence when they are performing the audit.
If the assessor does not highlight within drawings, or other evidence where compliance can be located, this will likely result in a non-conformance. For instance, a drawing showing storage bins might be completely obvious to the assessor, but may not be the case for the auditor on first sight of the drawing. So, any help to locate the relevant evidence will be appreciated by auditors and facilitate each other’s work.
How do we deal with impartiality?
The auditor, as a third party, is not allowed to provide any advice or steering. They are not to provide consultancy on how to achieve credits, or indicate whether certain evidence is compliant or not. The work of the auditor is also periodically audited by UKAS.
Then, the job of the assessor is precisely to provide guidance and steering to the design team.
Although there should be a certain grade of independence between the design team and the assessor, they can enhance the sustainability of the building by highlighting BREEAM requirements pre and during the assessment. Of course, if a BREEAM AP is also involved, then the consultancy role can be carried out by this person, who would also be able to suggest how further credits can be achieved and identify any potential risks and opportunities during the project.
If the assessor still cannot decide whether something is compliant due to unique aspects – for instance a modular building or only a partially compliant building – the best thing to do is refer to the Knowledge Base, then to the Assessor’s forum and finally send a technical query to BRE.
If a technical query is sent, it is useful for the auditor if the assessor explains why, by using the available evidence and expertise he or she believes that something is compliant….rather than asking the question, ‘is this compliant?’.
What is the reviewing process?
As you may have heard during a training session, auditors do not review 100% of the credits, as the purpose is to make a sample review. Bearing this in mind, as an assessor, we cannot trust that just because some credits do not came back with any feedback after the audit, that they have been approved…it is possible that they haven’t been even checked. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the assessor to check every credit and ensure that all the information submitted is compliant.
Remember that assessors are also obliged under a code of conduct commitment to perform their work with honesty. If for any reason, the assessor decides to award more credits after an audit was performed, this should be informed to the auditor.
Isn’t there a conflict of interest?
A very frequent concern as an auditor is identifying any potential conflict of interest, particularly if the role of the assessor is performed by the same developer company or when the assessor performs several roles within the company, such as energy specialist and an LCA consultant, for example.
While the auditor may apply more scrutiny to the assessment of the assessor who performs several roles, the auditor will be much more comfortable if these potential conflicts of interest are declared at the very beginning of the assessment. As an assessor working closely with the design team, it is very important to be objective when reviewing the evidence and not to try to produce evidence – even though it may be appealing to help the design team.
There are many nuances between the two roles, but essentially the assessor has the difficult job of collecting evidence from a great range of stakeholders, analysing it and ensuring that it complies with all the requirements. The auditor has the challenge of deciding whether they agree with the assessor’s view or whether further evidence is required.
Both roles hold challenges, however they both want to ensure that sustainable buildings are actually built, one by ensuring the assessor is addressing correctly the requirements of an internationally recognised scheme (BREEAM) and secondly by making sure that the design team is performing the required tasks and addressing the requirements of a sustainable building.
Next time you are in a difficult situation with either an assessor or an auditor, please think about the obstacles that each of them face in order to achieve a sustainable building. I hope this helps!