Lyons O'Neill

Building BREEAM: sustainable construction techniques

As demonstrated by recent climate strikes, as well as the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit this year, individuals and corporations across every sector are facing pressure to be more mindful of their environmental responsibilities. That’s why we’re proud to reflect on the innovative ideas that helped us achieve an excellent BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method) rating for our work at Phoenix Community Housing’s new headquarters. This development saw us transform a pub into a community hub comprising of office space and social enterprises, including Lewisham Plus Credit Union, a community cafe and training kitchen. With so many people using the space, the Phoenix Housing HQ provided the perfect opportunity to develop an inclusive space that was sustainable by design.

The former pub offered a great existing structure to work with. We were able to reuse the existing basement areas for attenuation tanks and crush the existing structure on site to use in the ground improvement process. By doing so, we helped cut down on waste whilst driving down costs. Similar efforts were made during the renovation of Vivienne Westwood’s headquarters, where we reused 80% of the existing structure which had stood from the 1970s. By allowing the existing structure to influence the new design of a building, we were able to maintain its character whilst introducing new and sustainable practice.

Making the most of existing materials is just one of many ways a project can obtain an excellent BREEAM rating. BREEAM is the world’s number one sustainability assessment method for master-planning projects, infrastructure and buildings. The assessment covers a building’s social, environmental and economic sustainability performance, helping developers reduce risk and demonstrate optimal sustainability performance throughout all stages of the planning and development process. The outcome of such an assessment would mean that developments are not only more sustainable, but can enhance the wellbeing of those occupying them. In addition, BREEAM certified developments are more likely to attract property investments and better protect natural resources.

The economic benefits of reusing and recycling materials can be reaped both during and after the development process. BREEAM certified developments tend to run at a lower cost, which for the headquarters of a not-for-profit organisation like Phoenix Community Housing, means that costs are better distributed where they are most needed. Also, disposing of commercial waste can incur steep costs which could be avoided by finding new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. This would mean that sustainable practice is cost-effective for both engineers and inhabitants.

Coming just after Clean Air Day last Thursday, there are plenty of other developments from which to draw inspiration for better sustainable practices. Just last month, a Scottish housebuilder unveiled a road made from plastic waste. The innovation turned waste destined for a landfill into granules that would go on to become part of a fully functioning road that was 60% stronger than a traditional one.

Overall, building sites can produce a lot of waste, and it is our responsibility to find new ways to tackle the issue. Sustainability ratings or certifications from assessments like BREEAM can offer a clear marker for celebration or improvement. Used alongside innovative ideas and smart thinking, efforts to reduce commercial and industrial waste are improving. By embedding sustainable practice into all stages of development, we can achieve a built environment that is representative of the creativity and innovation that bought it to life.