COP26 commences on Sunday, with a number of carbon-intensive sectors scrutinised over the next fortnight. No doubt two of these will be property and construction.

Allan Wilen

Allan Wilen

With the built environment (from planning through to operation and occupation) contributing to 19% of UK emissions, the heat will be on to find a scalable way to reduce this unacceptable figure. As such, there will be an urgent need to improve the environmental performance of new builds as well as existing stock.

With just under three decades to go to Net Zero 2050, and relatively modest progress made so far, I believe a good place to start toward getting us back on track is a recommitment and appreciation of the BREEAM accreditation.

Aiming to quantify the value of sustainable development, BREEAM is an essential green benchmark for investors, developers, designers and contractors, and has been proven to help reduce waste and use resources more efficiently.

However, my economics team has found BREEAM adoption is not consistent and this is hampering progress towards carbon neutrality. Last month, we analysed available data around BREEAM uptake and, although there are signs of more projects using the accreditation, its use on projects over the last few years has been relatively low.

Since 2016, only 8% of construction projects have been BREEAM accredited. In value terms, at 21%, these BREEAM projects account for a higher, but still minority, proportion of work started over the last five years.

Indeed, it’s even less encouraging to see BREEAM-accredited projects have actually accounted for a declining proportion of projects granted planning consent, or starting on site, since 2018. This dip may have been caused by the impact of Covid, prompting clients to defer investment decisions, but it’s a negative trend that needs to be reversed now.

A squeeze on public sector finances may also have affected the number of BREEAM-accredited projects, evidenced by a significant drop in the proportion of health, education and other public sector assets seeking a BREEAM rating.

Although this has been offset by a stronger uptake in industrial and office sector projects, with a 35% and 46% increase respectively since 2018, these fluctuations between verticals point to an inconsistent strategy for driving sustainability, as well as a collective lack of understanding around the importance of BREEAM.

Delivering net zero carbon will involve major challenges for the nation, government and property sector alike. Although it’s not the entire picture, BREEAM will help to demonstrate that property and built environment professionals have the know-how to deliver the many green changes required of UK infrastructure.

Those projects that do use the BREEAM accreditation highlight that levels of expertise around green building are indeed growing. Over the last four years, accredited buildings have increasingly secured the higher BREEAM ratings of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Outstanding’.

By value, half of BREEAM-rated projects granted planning consent since 2018 have secured these higher accolades, compared with 43% in the preceding four years.

It’s a positive sign, but there’s still some way to go. Attitudes need to change, embracing BREEAM across the whole property and construction industry, particularly in the public sector.

Ultimately, BREEAM points the way to a more sustainable approach to building, achieving more eco-friendly built assets.

Although events over the past few years seem to have affected its proliferation, I hope its proponents take the opportunity to champion this important accreditation over the next fortnight, as an essential tool towards delivering a carbon-neutral built environment.

Allan Wilen is economics director at Glenigan