“The UK has had a culture of compliance rather than a culture of performance …”

Five minutes with … Dan Asquith, business development manager of BRE Group, explains the value of independent ESG certification

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do

I’m a business development manager focusing on UK Real Estate, part of a relatively new department. I’ve been with the business for two years, which is nothing compared to BRE’s 100-year history. In fact, two months after I joined, BRE celebrated their centenary, which was a lovely experience even though I felt a bit of a fraud joining in!

Within my role I look to raise awareness of our schemes and encourage companies which have less developed ESG strategies to integrate BREEAM into that. A major focus of mine this year is as an account manager for key BREEAM and HQM users within the UK. I’m trying to help clients use our schemes more effectively, but also listening to their feedback and feeding back to our product and science team.

Within the industry we are well known for our certification schemes, but we are a research company at heart and all of our schemes have a deep foundation in science. As a passionate sustainability professional, I love this part of my role, feeding back to continuously improve our schemes.

Of course, my primary function is to try and grow BREEAM in all its iterations. 

Table showing certificates for sustainability
BREEAM certifications

Give us an overview of BREEAM products

Essentially BREEAM is a sustainability certification scheme which covers any asset class, for any building type, in any country of the world, at any lifecycle stage of the asset.

We start this journey with BREEAM Communities, a scheme that aids sustainable decision making at master-planning stage. Then we have BREEAM Infrastructure (previously known as CEEQUAL), for civil engineering works, roads, bridges, major infrastructure and enabling works.

My focus is above ground, on buildings and assets and within this we have BREEAM New Construction (ground up, new development), BREEAM RFO (refurbishment and fit-outs) and BREEAM In-use (BIU), our certification scheme for operational buildings. These have versions for both International and UK.

If we’re discussing UK Residential, it’s covered by our Home Quality Mark Scheme. HQM replaced the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes; it sits slightly separate but is very much part of BREEAM Projects and is grounded in the same science.

What’s the case for a landlord undertaking BREEAM certification?

I could speak about this for hours, but if you need a one-word summary it’s “futureproofing”.  

The world of finance has collided with ESG and being able to prove your assets’ ESG credentials is now intrinsically tied to investment or disposal decisions.

There are regulatory aspects which cover parts of ESG, but the value in our schemes is that every credit you gain with us is proving that you, or your asset, are going above and beyond regulatory minimums.

In the world of ESG, marking your own homework is not good enough

Also, in the world of ESG marking your own homework is not good enough and our schemes are the most globally recognised third-party verified certifications.

So, this is a language which investors understand. People talk about the value and cost of certification, but I would argue the cost of not acting is the heaviest. Being able to prove your sustainability credentials is important now but will be even more vital over the coming years. 

Man giving a talk on ESG with a laptop and screen
“The world of finance has collided with ESG” – Dan Asquith

What keeps you up at night?

My focus is on UK Real Estate, so this takes up the majority of my headspace.

There are some really interesting cultural differences within the UK market when it comes to ESG decision making and behaviour compared to our European – and definitely Scandinavian – counterparts.  I would say the UK has had a culture of compliance rather than a culture of performance. Rather than really wanting to go above and beyond, the natural instinct of the industry is first to ask: “Do we have to?”

Rather than really wanting to go above and beyond, the natural instinct of the industry is to ask: “Do we have to?”

I am really banging the drum to try to change this, and I’m delighted to be a part of some forward-thinking conversations. So, it’s certainly not a sweeping statement for all, but I really do think we have ground to make up. A cultural shift towards performance and going above and beyond will help the UK market make strides towards NZC 2030/35 more quickly. 

Where is the ESG / sustainability agenda heading?

I could choose a lot of things here, which is an indication of the progress we’re making as an industry, but I am enthused by the level of cross-industry collaboration around ESG.

I am personally involved in lots of industry associations and attend lots of industry events. ESG is very high on every event agenda, which is fantastic, but one message that is clear, and where I think the agenda is heading, is towards this collaborative approach.

I heard someone speak about this recently and they said that, in the past, innovative thinking would be something you would keep to yourself especially in a competitive industry, but this is where ESG differs. We are all facing the same issues and are, essentially, on the same team in this global battle, so I’m delighted to be part of an industry which is showing fantastic levels of collaboration.

I’m delighted to be part of an industry which is showing fantastic levels of collaboration

Of course, BRE is playing a major part of this, and our innovative research feeds the development of our schemes, but we also have a voice at the table for a number of wider industry decisions and hope to help shape positive decision making. Very briefly as well, I am pleased to see that the S and the G are having a larger focus moving forward too. 

What is in the BRE pipeline over the short/medium/long term?

We have lots of exciting progressions and I’m delighted to say that appetite in the market for our schemes is higher than ever – especially those companies wanting to take this journey into operational assets. BIU ensures they understand any performance gaps and offers the most updated sustainability credentials of their assets, not just around design or as per construction stage statistics.

But in terms of BREEAM’s progression short and medium term, I’m delighted to talk more about our v7 Update. This will be our first modular update across all our schemes and is an exciting step-change for the way we develop schemes. Rather than waiting for wholesale change across one scheme (e.g. BREEAM NC 2014 to 2018) we are changing specific science across all our schemes.

The v7 Update is going through consultation now and has a focus on energy and carbon, which are the areas we will update.

We have also just now launched Home Quality Mark (HQM) V6 in Northern Ireland. This is an update in response to the recent changes to the Building Regulations in England, Scotland, and Wales and introduces the Northern Ireland standard for the first time. HQM Version 6 is now compatible with the relevant local energy performance calculation procedures, including SAP 10.   

I would urge any industry professionals involved in any of our schemes and who would like to learn more, or contribute to the v7 consultation, to visit our website or contact me directly.

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