We live in a world where the pace of change is relentless. Society is getting to grips with the climate crisis we face which has led to political action in the form of a commitment to net zero as well as increased industrial awareness of how we need to adapt to a different future. This is particularly the case with the built environment where climate resilience has become a major focus of business.
The built environment needs to play a role in both the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The construction industry is typically resource intensive and contributes significantly to the global carbon emissions, therefore it needs to reduce the impact it has on the environment. Additionally, it also needs to ensure that buildings are adapting to the changing climate and will be able to withstand and perform in the future.
Professionals are becoming more concerned about the performance of their assets over the long term. How will buildings perform in a future where summer temperatures are several degrees hotter than now, with extreme weather also more frequent? Buildings need to stand up to challenges which haven’t been faced before, whilst being designed in a way that supports our net zero ambitions. There is also a growing demand for buildings which take the health and wellbeing of occupants into account. Tackling so many global megatrends is a big challenge which will require proactivity from the whole of the industry. Furthermore, innovation must be encouraged, new technologies need to be tested to help address these trends.
The role of BRE
BRE is an international, multi-disciplinary, building science organisation with a mission to improve buildings and infrastructure through research, knowledge generation and their application. BRE is owned by a charity called the BRE Trust, which delivers one of the largest programmes of built environment education and research for the public good.
BRE uses cutting-edge collaborative research to develop a range of digital products, services, standards and qualifications which are adopted around the world to bring about positive change in the built environment.
Throughout its existence, BRE has been at the forefront of construction innovation and research. BRE’s unique position within the industry ensures that it remains a key enabler in the development of policies, regulations, standards and innovation, shaping the future of the built environment. This position is as important as ever because of the challenges facing the built environment.
BRE’s position also ensures that it is valued by the private sector as an organisation that can foster, evaluate and promote construction innovation which often leads to market penetration and commercial gains. The role that BRE plays in the shaping, developing, demonstrating, and promoting construction innovation is unmatched and provides ongoing opportunities for the business both nationally and internationally.
BRE Innovation Parks Network
The BRE Innovation Park concept has been established to support the development and implementation of Government policies in relation to issues such as construction innovation, sustainability, energy efficiency, resilience and climate change. The role of the Innovation Parks is to inform the industry and policy makers on the viability of construction innovations which can deliver improved performance and sustainability within the built environment.
Our vision for the BRE Innovation Parks is to establish a unique and unparalleled research and demonstration network, which inspires and develops innovative solutions which will inform the development of the global built environment. This network works with local and international stakeholders to identify and support innovation which demonstrate true sustainability and deliver social, economic and environmental benefits at national and international levels.
The Innovation Parks Network now extends across four sites within the UK, and across four continents – includes links to facilities in Canada, China, South America (Brazil and Chile).
Innovation – Opportunities and barriers
Government policy around energy and climate change, and the subsequent changes in building regulatory compliance, provides a positive backdrop for innovation in construction. Recent years have seen greater focus on offsite construction, renewable energy and storage, and the use of technology in the construction and operation of buildings. These are all positive moves and have been supplemented by UK Government’s commitment to support innovation through the Construction Innovation Hub, launched in 2019.
Stimulating innovation within construction is often challenged by two specific items;
- The ‘conservative’ and risk-averse nature of the industry; and
- The lack, or perceived lack, of demand from clients and customers.
Taking the first point, the construction industry, in general, is naturally averse to step-changes in delivery of buildings. The phrase ‘evolution’ as opposed to ‘revolution’ is often cited and is based around the need to manage costs and risks within any commercial project. To overcome these barriers data, research, certification, knowledge-sharing and education all have a part to play. Creating confidence based on knowledge and data is key to manage risk in a way that creates greater opportunities to deploy innovation in buildings. BRE’s Innovation Parks provide a ‘safe’ environment to do this and they continue to see a vast array of product and technologies being deployed.
The second point touches on individual preferences and priorities of consumers. Clients are increasingly aware of the retail or lettable value of highly performing buildings. This ‘value’ can be supported by a certified rating scheme such as BREEAM and this provides a recognised measure of performance. How innovation is delivered in buildings is often less visible to the client. Consequently, greater awareness and education amongst clients and consumers is required so they are armed with the knowledge to ask questions of their development partner. Asking questions of architects, specifiers, and contractors will encourage the use of innovation to meet the needs of an informed customer.
Certifications such as BREEAM, HQM and CEEQUAL recognise high performing assets across the built environment lifecycle. BREEAM and CEEQUAL can be used to assess and certify the sustainability performance of a range building types and infrastructure, whilst HQM has a residential focus assessing the design quality and sustainability of new homes. Third party assessment allows for an impartial confirmation of an assets environmental, social and economic sustainability performance. In a time where sustainability is ever increasing in consumer consciousness, companies can demonstrate their sustainable credentials by pointing to assets which have achieved certification demonstrating this. Certification also provides a mechanism for benchmarking the progress of industry towards addressing the above-mentioned global megatrends; In helping to measure and compare asset performance against competitors, driving industry improvement. The standards set out in BREEAM, HQM and CEEQUAL are also science-based, meaning assets which achieve certification have evidence-based proof that they are performing beyond current industry standards. This helps the built environment move more rapidly with changing social expectations.
Certification schemes make it clear to clients what’s required to create a high-performance asset. By providing a framework and setting out clearly defined goals in a variety of areas, BREEAM and other certification schemes allow teams to discuss ways for their asset to meet the requirements, encouraging innovative thinking in order to do so. In finding solutions to meet the standards set out by certification schemes, projects can give customers untapped competitive advantages in the form of innovation. BREEAM dedicates a category to innovation, rewarding assets which meet exemplary performance levels for a particular issue. This helps to encourage, publicise and accelerate uptake of innovation by the whole industry which is essential as the built environment adapts to the various global megatrends.
Certifications schemes and innovation parks both play a huge role in driving innovation and sustainability in the built environment and they must continue to do so. The world moves forward quickly and at times construction has been accused of being conservative and slow to adapt. Innovation parks and certification directly and indirectly stimulate the implementation of innovation, meaning they are valuable tools in moving away from the ‘slow to adapt’ reputation associated with the built environment. As technology and construction methods evolve, it’s essential that there is a means to test new techniques and materials. It’s also essential that there is a mechanism which encourages the private sector to aim high with their assets by embracing innovative thinking.
Authors: David Kelly, BRE Director of Innovation Parks & Centre for Resilience and Harry Vigus, BREEAM Graduate