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Building certification schemes: Are they driving or derailing sustainable development in the construction sector?

Mundy, Paul; Henderson, Emma; Horry, Rosemary; Booth, Colin A.


Paul Mundy
Senior Lecturer in Building Surveying

Emma Henderson

Rosemary Horry

Colin Booth
AHOD in Research/ Associate Professor


Building certification schemes have been hailed as a sustainable building solution; growing debate exists as to the efficacy of these schemes and whether they can really deliver a sustainable built environment. As no agreed definition of sustainability exists and minimal guidance is available towards the delivery of sustainable development, there is possibility for inadequate responses to be labelled as being sustainable. This poses the question as to whether building certification schemes are the answer to addressing the sustainability dilemma within the construction industry. In other words, do building certification schemes deliver sustainable outcomes across the multiple challenges faced by humanity? This study applies the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Certification Scheme to a listed building refurbishment case study. It analyses the use of credit assessments to determine the distribution of the scheme criteria against a common conceptualisation of sustainability: the three pillars of environmental, social and economic. Despite BREEAM being considered one of the strongest assessment tools, findings reveal limited consideration to all but environmental aspects. The assessment criteria focus on environmental improvements; energy efficiency, as opposed to a ‘sustainable’ assessment method that would address broader social and economic issues. The study concludes that BREEAM may be guiding the construction industry away from truly sustainable outcomes. For instance, the under–representation of non–environmental assessment criteria undermine the importance of the social and economic aspects within sustainability. Building certification schemes, heralded as a solution for a sustainable built environment, could paradoxically contribute to the energy efficiency paradigm problem. Misleading construction professionals and causing them to neglect valuable social and economic opportunities for sustainable project outcomes.


Mundy, P., Henderson, E., Horry, R., & Booth, C. A. (2021, September). Building certification schemes: Are they driving or derailing sustainable development in the construction sector?. Paper presented at 7th Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design (SEEDS), 2021, Online

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 7th Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design (SEEDS), 2021
Conference Location Online
Start Date Sep 1, 2021
End Date Sep 3, 2021
Deposit Date Feb 28, 2023
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