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For both water and energy, there are parallels that can be drawn between the ways in which  BREEAM criteria has developed and resulting major changes to mass market practices and building regulations.

The first BREEAM schemes focused on rewarding the implementation of individual energy or water saving measures. For example setting minimum requirements for lighting efficiency or maximum capacities for WC cisterns.  However, in 1998 the approach switched to whole building assessment and it was this approach that then became a mandatory Building Regulations requirement for energy (Part L) and water (Part G) in 2006 and 2010 respectively

But how do you ensure that the mass market is ready for changes in regulatory baseline? One way is through voluntary standards such as BREEAM.

In 1986 a toilet cistern typically held 9 litres of water, over 4 times the recommended minimum adult daily water intake.  The following year, BRE demonstrated that a well-designed WC could operate effectively with as little as 3.5 litres.  In 1989, this demonstrator influenced a reduction in maximum flushing volumes to 7.5 litres for all new installations enforced via the water byelaw amendments.

Seeing the potential to go beyond this, in 1991 BREEAM New Homes set a requirement for a 6 litre flush volume for domestic WCs – a bold move given that no UK manufacturer made one at the time!  Just four years later, Ideal Standard became the first to supply a fully licensed, compliant fitting.  Other manufacturers rapidly followed.

Another four years later saw the uptake of these more efficient systems become so widespread that this performance level became a regulatory standard.  Today, low flush WCs are ubiquitous.

Despite criticism at the time, the efficiencies from WC installation within dwellings alone have, as a minimum, saved approximately 16.8 million litres of water! Though the exact full amount, when considering WC specifications within the non-domestic sector and increasing specification that is even more efficient that current regulations, will represent over double this.  Furthermore, a robust calculation methodology for measuring water consumption is now embedded in regulation.

Similarly for energy, the criteria in BREEAM has continued to act as a test bed for market adoption and has significantly influenced the direction of regulation. The introduction of the Fabric Energy Efficiency (FEE) scales in the Code for Sustainable Homes, for example, showcases the successful trial of criteria which was then incorporated into regulation a few years later.

In contrast, the definition of zero carbon has continued to evolve since it was first published in the Code in 2006.  Government and industry learnt from the market’s response to the Code, drawing the conclusion that the initial definition was too challenging. The definition was revised which, without the Code, may have been put into regulation and cost the tax payer and industry money in its subsequent withdrawal and iteration.

To date, thousands of BREEAM assessed buildings have been designed and constructed to minimise operational energy and water consumption. As a driver of mass industry good practice, BREEAM will continue to drive best practice in this area by recognizing improvement beyond the mandatory minimum, and adapting criteria as regulation improves.

About the Author
Over the past 25 years BREEAM has evolved and grown to reflect advances in science, technology, policy and business. We are the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for the built environment, with more than 530,000 certificates issued in over 70 countries. Throughout 2016, we are continuing to celebrate our legacy thus far and offer thoughts for the future. We also want to hear from you! Post comments to us on Buzz or share your BREEAM success stories on Instagram or Twitter #BREEAM25.

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