BREEAM Version 7 to focus on hotels and net zero carbon

by: Felicity Cousins | July 6, 2023

UK: Sustainable Hotel News spoke to Tom Wilson head of delivery at BRE, which issues BREEAM certification, about the hotel sector and what can be done to build a sustainable future. 

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is one of the world’s leading science based certification systems for the built environment. It aims to get buildings to net zero and achieve ESG goals through an holistic approach, which includes looking at not only the building but the environment around it. 

BREEAM is owned by BRE (Building Research Establishment) which is “a profit-for-purpose organisation with more than 100 years of building science and research background.”  To get certified BREEAM, a hotel, or any building, needs to be assessed first by experts and consultants at BRE. BRE writes the standard and trains thousands of licensed assessors who are operating around the world. Assessors work with hotels and advise them on the rating they will get and what they can do to improve. 

Tom Wilson, head of delivery at BRE says: “Within BREEAM with have a broad definition of sustainability, it’s not just energy and water, it’s looking at the health and wellbeing of occupants and the biodiversity around it. So it’s about making sure all of that is kept up to date, and responding to what the industry needs but also what the latest science and research is telling us.”

BREEAM is in constant development to improve and adapt with climate science and technology, and BRE is publishing Version 7 of BREEAM next year. The consultation period for Version 7 is still open – it closes at the end of this week so it’s not too late to add your feedback here. Version 7 will look at how BREEAM can work for hotels and as Wilson explains: “Specifically focusing on hotels is part of the future improvements plan that we’ve got at the moment.” 

Although BREEAM has been around for 30 years, and along with LEED is widely recognised as the green building standard for the built environment, it started with office retail and industrial buildings mainly in the UK. About 15 years ago BREEAM was internationalised and it worked with some big customers in the UK to develop specific hotel criteria. BREEAM then went on to trial the hotel criteria in Europe and other countries as Wilson explains “What we have found over the years is that what we do in the UK doesn’t always translate. And so from 2016 onwards you could assess hotels under BREEAM anywhere in the world, at both the new construction stage, and the refurbishment, and the ‘in-use’ stage.”

BREEAM deals with the design process, construction, operations and refurbishment of the built environment and takes into account a broader definition of sustainability looking at the health and wellbeing of the people using the building as well as the biodiversity around it. For hotels this is key, as the trend for more community-based, shared and local experiences in the hospitality sector flourishes.

Wilson explains that globally there are just over 300 hotel projects registered to go through the process to be certified BREEAM and 300 that have certified. In terms of hotel buildings, which are already in use, there are just over 200 currently registered and just over 200 certified. (BREEAM-in-USE). For new constructions BREEAM certified means the building has that sorted, but for existing structures the certification lasts for three years, and there is an ongoing assessment – so hotels already ‘in use’ have to keep up to the BREEAM standard.

Wilson says: “The purpose of that is to improve over time and have an understanding of how you are doing today, and therefore how you can improve in the future.”

Does Wilson see numbers of hotels certified BREEAM going up? “Yes. Historically we haven’t actively targeted the hotel sector, it’s something where they’ve come to us and said can we use BREEAM in this sector. What we’ve seen recently is organisations like the Energy and Environment Alliance, (EEA), which is keen to get its members using BREEAM, and giving us more feedback. So we are running workshops with them to understand what are the challenges of using BREEAM for the hospitality sector and how can we refine things.”

Wilson explains that part of Version 7 will be about building some of those learnings to make it easier in terms of process (some parts of the process might be harder to understand for hotels as opposed to office buildings).

Wilson says to try and help with that BRE has broken down hotels as a category into the different STR definitions, using those definitions so you can combine the environmental data with the other data [occupancy/room rate etc].

For hotel groups with lots of different brands and STRs this means they will be able to look at how they compare to other brands at the same level for high end or economy. “It’s giving the industry that data so they can start making better decisions about where they need to invest and how they need to improve and are they on track to meet Net Zero Carbon targets for 2050 or the timescale they have set themselves.”

Wilson adds: “This is the type of reporting the EEA members are saying they want to be able to do because from an energy point of view if you are a city centre economy hotel you are probably going to do better than a high end luxury hotel that’s a long way from anywhere and you don’t have any public transport, and various other things, which BREEAM also takes into account.” 

It’s worth remembering that BREEAM focuses very much on the building itself, so a hotel group might be doing lots of other sustainable initiatives as an organisation, which BREEAM won’t look at for the certification, as it will be looking at the asset. But can a hotel be sustainable without being certified BREEAM?

Wilson says: “Buildings can be sustainable without being BREEAM or LEED, or any kind of certification, but what we are trying to provide is that third party market recognition to avoid any of the greenwash… so as part of the process of BREEAM the assessors ask for proof with a detailed list of documentation. Particularly with portfolios, the management might be like ‘we are pretty good, all our assets have these documents’ and then the assessors go to the individual property manager and they say ‘oh I lost it, or we haven’t updated that for ten years…’  and that’s the whole point of the third party certification.”

Wilson acknowledges that a hotel which is already an existing building might struggle in its first assessment but then it will improve over time and improving the asset performance is what really matters. 

It’s still hugely confusing for accommodation buyers to understand what is a sustainable hotel, and which hotels meet the requirements for their sustainable accommodation programme and ESG targets. There is still a massive problem with lack of alignment within the sector when it comes to data.

Wilson says one of the things Version 7 will do is give people the data. “We are working on a new platform where you will see the kgCO2/m2 and you can start to see those key numbers and then it doesn’t matter if you have done LEED or BREEAM – once you’ve got that number suddenly it’s very comparable.”

According to BREEAM 92 per cent of the building sector now regards net zero carbon as the primary driver for economic growth in the built environment and 88 per cent of its customers are actively seeking an integrated approach to sustainability. “The market will start favouring assets that are more sustainable, particularly the investors.” Although Wilson acknowledges this is less of an issue in the hospitality sector so far.

The question developers and hotel groups will have to ask is, will you get planning permission if you are not building something that will achieve net zero carbon by 2050? 

To take part in the BREEAM Version 7 open consultation and net zero carbon survey click here.

 Studio Moren recently partnered with the EEA , and the EEA recently named Room Reward as its official charity partner.

Image supplied by BRE