Project Overview

This project examined the assessment process in commercial building projects. The research adopted a practice based, socio-technical systems approach. The research focused on eight case studies, including school, office and health projects. For each case study, interviews were conducted with the key members of the design and project teams directly involved in the BREEAM assessment. These included the BREEAM assessor, clients, contractors, project managers, architects and specialist engineers. Research questions concerned the understanding and expectations which different actors have of the tool, as well as its impact on their work in the project. The aim of the research was to explore the articulation of the assessment process with the design and production phases of each project.


The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is the oldest and the best established building level assessment tools currently in use. In the UK it figures in government policy documents as a mandated mechanism; it is increasingly required on public funded projects, as a planning condition and by private clients for commercial buildings. The BRE makes extensive claims for BREEAM, ranging from its role as a market signal, to its use to inform design and production decisions, and its role in project team coordination and education. While there is extensive research into the formal features of such tools and their fit with idealized notions of sustainability, little is known about how the assessment process maps onto the design and construction process.

Key Objectives

The research aims were to identify and explain the range of different ways that the BREEAM assessment process affects project team dynamics and impacts on design and construction decisions. The research outputs will help assessors and firms refine their procedures to gain maximum benefit from the process and overcome current confusion and dissatisfaction. They will also suggest ways that firms can make better use of the method, harnessing it for their own sustainability goals and ensuring its fit with their organizational practices. Finally, the research uses the case of BREEAM to advance understanding of assessment methods, for sustainable construction and in general.


Industry partners

Eight Associates

Jacobs UK

Maxwell Fordham

Academic partners
University of Reading (project leader)

Research Outputs

Conference papers

Schweber, L. (2011), “Why do some liberal technologies work better than others? On the use of sustainable assessment tools in construction projects”. Discussion Paper for the Seminar on Public Administration, Institute for Science Innovation and Society, Said Business School, Oxford, January 15.

Associated Staff


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