BREEAM and the Riba Plan of Work

The BREEAM assessment methodology is a popular way of expressing the sustainability performance of new buildings in Europe and the Middle East and particularly in the United Kingdom. The Riba Plan of Work is a system of building project planning that is widely used by architects in the United Kingdom. This article discusses how managing BREEAM projects can successfully be aligned to the Riba Plan of Work.

BREEAM rates building projects in five categories: pass, good, very good, excellent and outstanding. The rating is based on an assessment of many different issues that relate to sustainable construction. Although there are some mandatory measures that need to be implemented, it is not necessary to score in each of the issues considered to achieve one of the ratings. It is therefore a client and design team decision which sustainability measures will be selected to achieve the required rating. The selection criteria are usually made up of a combination of cost effectiveness, ease of implementation and client preferences.

Many of the issues that are considered within the BREEAM methodology are specific to development site and not associated with the built form itself. The final suite of sustainability measures that will be implemented is therefore often different for each project, particularly when aiming to achieve the more ambitious ratings such as excellent and outstanding. To ensure cost-effective implementation it is important to start considering sustainability issues early on in the project cycle.

The Riba Plan of Work divides the development of construction projects in eleven distinct stages, labeled Riba stage A to Riba stage L. The plan of work provides guidance and procedures of the activities that should take place during each of the stages. In addition it identifies which of the parties involved in the project should be responsible for completing these activities.

The early stages (A and B) are about preparation. During these stages the client's requirements are identified and constraints and opportunities examined. This leads to the development of a design brief (Riba B).

The stages C, D and E cover the design of the development from concept (Riba C) to detailed design (Riba E). The Riba stages F, G and H are about preparing contract documents and going to tender with selected contractors. The construction activities and responsible parties are described in Riba stages J and K. Finally Riba stage L details the activities and responsible parties required to support the new occupants during the initial phase of occupation.

When I work with my clients I guide them through the BREEAM assessment in a process that consists of five stages:

1. BREEAM Appraisal
2. BREEAM Strategy
3. BREEAM Pre-assessment
4. Design Stage Assessment
5. Post Construction Review

The aim of carrying out an appraisal in an early stage of the project is to provide an overview of the sustainability constraints and opportunities of the project and to identify the potential actions that are required to achieve the various BREEAM performance categories. The appraisal will help in setting the BREEAM performance standard and provides a road-map for the remainder of the project. These are essential ingredients of the strategy. For instance, certain BREEAM credits are only available when further surveys or assessments are carried out during the design stage of the project. The appraisal will identify those that are relevant to the project, allowing the project manager to ensure that these are budgeted for and that sufficient time is allocated within the programme.

The appraisal and defining the strategy should take place early on in the project cycle, ideally no later than during the Riba B stage. BREEAM recognises the importance this and awards up to two credits when this is done with the support of a BREEAM Accredited Professional.

The pre-assessment follows on from the appraisal and should reflect the sustainability measures that the project team has committed to implement. This document should be completed before the end of Riba D and should be submitted to the local planning authority with a full planning application. The pre-assessment report should also be included in any tender information that is made available to construction contractors bidding for the construction of the building.

The design stage assessment should be completed before construction starts at the Riba J stage. The design stage assignment differs from the pre-assessment in that for each of the sustainability measures that will be implemented full evidence is required to back-up the claims. This stage should be completed formally so that an interim certificate can be awarded.

Finally the post construction review serves to confirm the interim BREEAM rating at the design stage assessment. The post construction review is a formal step and leads to the award of the final BREEAM certificate. It should be carried out when construction is completed and occupation of the building starts (Riba K or L).

Finley Falconer is a sustainability specialist. He works for Planning for Sustainability Ltd where he carries out BREEAM Assessments. He also leads the companies dedicated BREEAM platform at

Original article