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Building for Success: How BREEAM Communities and Building for Healthy Life Assessment improve construction projects

Sheryle Moon
Published: 16/02/2021

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Individual development projects can achieve certification for sustainability and environmental performance based on standardized assessments. Certification programs, such as BREEAM Communities, evaluate a project's sustainability and environmental performance through a rigorous evaluation process.

Certification for sustainability and environmental performance is increasingly focused on wider criteria beyond just the individual development project. For example, certification programmes such as BREEAM Communities are now also available for evaluating masterplans that incorporate urban design principles.

In the UK, Building for Healthy Life is a widely adopted standard in the housing industry often also used for planning approvals. It's a requirement for funding from Homes England, the non-departmental public body that funds new affordable housing in England. 

Building Better: The Benefits of Assessing Your Construction Project

Certifications for development projects, such as with Building for Healthy Life or BREEAM Communities, can provide numerous benefits for developers, owners, and tenants. They serve as a clear indication that a project has met high standards of sustainability and environmental performance. Certified projects may have better access to funding opportunities, higher rents, and better marketing opportunities, as they appeal to an increasing number of environmentally conscious tenants.

Broadly, standardised and trusted assessment frameworks can add the following value to a construction project: 

  • Standardised and trusted assessment frameworks can provide helpful guidance for design processes and development of internal quality frameworks.
  • Accreditations help to identify projects that have exceeded the minimum standard necessary to achieve a planning permission, providing a validated marketing benefit.
  • Certified projects have better chances of attracting funding opportunities.
  • Adherence to higher standards can lead to an increase in the value of the construction project, according to research by BREEAM.
  • Project certificates schemes provide a practical way for developers to evidence that they have incorporated the wider elements of valued attributes, such as health and wellbeing benefits, throughout the design and development phases of their projects.
  • Accreditation can support the ESG or sustainability strategy of the project developer organization.
  • Accreditation can contribute to the long-term health and wellbeing of occupants, buyers, or tenants, including decreased absenteeism and higher levels of satisfaction and comfort.

A Look at Leading Assessment Schemes for Construction Projects

When it comes to accreditations, there is now a wider range of accreditations out there that increasingly find recognition in the construction industry. 

BREEAM Communities (BRE Group, UK)

BRE has developed a range of standards, which adapt the BREEAM method to different project types, including master plans, infrastructure projects, but also stand-alone buildings.

BREEAM Communities (BRE Group, UK) is an internationally recognised, robust standard for the assessment of the environmental sustainability of a master plan. This method assesses construction projects on 10 comprehensive categories, each with a detailed list of criteria. 

An independent assessor reviews a project near or around post-completion and scores each criteria against defined benchmarks. Weighting of each criteria and benchmarks achieved then determines a final BREEAM rating, ranging from acceptable to outstanding.

WELL Certified (International Well Building Institute, US)

The International Well Building Institute is leading the global movement to transform building development and communities in ways that help people thrive.

Their Well Certified scheme is focused on individual developments and is the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness. The Well standard considers aspects such as natural lighting, indoor air quality, and active lifestyles.

Building for Healthy Life (UK)

Building for Healthy Life is a well-established design coding standard provided by Building for Homes, that focused on the health and well-being of new neighbourhoods. It is amongst the most widely known standards in the U.K., as its predecessor was often referred to in local government guidance. 

The Building for Homes group is established for the public benefit for the following purposes:

  • To promote high standards of performance and inter-professional co-operation in planning, urban design and architecture, landscape design and all other aspects of the built environment.
  • To educate the relevant professions and the public in matters relating to urban design.

The most recent version, Building for Healthy Life, was developed in collaboration with Homes England and NHS England, which will add to its popularity in the UK. Homes England pushes for the adoption of Building for Healthy Life standard in all projects it supports, which provides a major incentive for developers who collaborate with Homes England to deliver housing that is part-funded by public funds.

LiveWell standard (Chelmsford Council, UK)

The LiveWell developer accreditation is new and relatively unique in its strong focus on health and wellbeing. 

Health inequalities are heavily influenced by a wide range of socio-economic factors including housing, education, jobs and unemployment. Planners and Developers are recognising the many benefits that come from incorporating health and wellbeing principles into development projects. The Livewell Accreditation scheme encourages developers to support the health and wellbeing of residents in their development project and by extension, the way the project is integrated with its immediate built environment context.

The scheme provides a way for developers and housebuilders to be recognised for their commitment to incorporating Active Design Principles such as having excellent walking, cycling and greenspace connections throughout the new development alongside wider health and wellbeing measures. The accreditation is based on an assessment using the new Health Impact Assessment Criteria.

Developments considered to be making a positive contribution to health and wellbeing are awarded different levels of accreditation.The criteria includes meeting the high-quality home standard, creating environments that support cohesive communities and improving access to education, skills and employment, as well as promoting environmental sustainability. 

Designing for quality: Tips for adapting your project development process

Design quality is essential for all developers to consider. In England, the recent publication of the draft National Model Design Code indicated a greater emphasis on design considerations for developers going forward.

Research and select a certification program

Research and compare different certification programs to determine which one best fits your sustainability goals and the unique context of your project. Consider factors such as cost, time required for certification, and the level of recognition and credibility of the program.

Conduct a preliminary assessment

Before starting the certification process, conduct a preliminary assessment to identify areas where your project may fall short of the certification requirements. This can help you allocate resources and prioritize actions that are needed to meet the standards required for certification.

Develop an assessment strategy

Develop a  strategy that outlines required sustainability and quality goals and the actions needed to achieve them. Ensure that the strategy aligns with the certification program requirements. Draw on tools such as place analytics on PlaceChangers to diagnose needs and priorities. 

Develop a strong stakeholder engagement programme

Engage stakeholders early and often in the certification process to ensure that their interests and concerns are addressed. This can include internal stakeholders such as project team members, as well as external stakeholders such as community members. A strong community consultation tool, such as PlaceChangers consultation tool can help here. 

Document and report sustainability measures

Document and report the sustainability measures implemented to meet the certification program requirements. This can include submitting documentation such as drawings, specifications, and performance data.

Seek certification

Finally, submit your documentation and undergo an assessment by the certification program to receive certification for your project. Be prepared to address any areas where your project falls short of the certification requirements and work to address these gaps.

By following these steps, you can prepare your project for obtaining certification for sustainability and environmental performance, demonstrating your commitment to sustainable development and enhancing the marketability of your project.

The cost of project assessment

Pursuing certification for individual development projects can be costly and time-consuming. Project teams must invest significant amounts of time and resources into the certification process to meet the standards required for certification.

Costs for application will vary depending on the accreditation that is applied for. 

Building for Life (12)

As an example of costs, application for the older Building for Healthy Life (12) standard will first require adhering to the standard. As of February 2021, the costs then include payments for panel inspections at key project stages. This costs £10,000 per review. The certificate then carries a license fee of 0.0002% of the value of each home up to a maximum of £3,000 per development.  

Note: Many architects offer a review against framework criteria. This is often for free however does not equate to a formal certification process. 

Well Certification

Costs for the Well certification are more expensive. As per February 2021, Well certification for a 1000 square feet residential building would involve an initial payment of $2,500, plus $6,500 for documentation reviews. The applicant will also need to budget $7,250 for professional assessors to visit the site. 


In conclusion, good design is essential for construction projects to have a positive and lasting impact on occupants and residents. Achieving a reputation for project quality can lead to better funding and greater success in marketing project outcomes. Project certification provides an extra, validated label of quality, serving as a testament to a developer's commitment to working under local, national or global standards and frameworks.

These accreditations, such as BREEAM and WELL are robust frameworks that provide a benchmark for builders and a protection mechanism for consumers. They allow project owners to demonstrate their level of quality and aspiration. However, it is important to note that these certifications are paid for by the project owner.

For house buyers, it is helpful to look beyond certifications and consider newsworthy activities or prizes won from reputable sources. These references provide a true test of character. Additionally, visiting properties that the builder has worked on can give a better sense of their suitability.

In conclusion, while certifications serve as a valuable tool for demonstrating quality and meeting sustainability goals, they should be considered in conjunction with other factors, such as a builder's track record and reputation. By using a combination of these strategies, stakeholders can work towards sustainable and high-quality construction projects that benefit occupants, residents, and the wider community.

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