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Use of Sustainability Assessments (BREEAM and CEEQUAL) on the HS2 project

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At High Speed Two (HS2), sustainability is all about delivering social, environmental and economic benefits through the ambition of building the most sustainable high-speed railway of its kind in the world. The key sustainability goal is to deliver a railway that respects the natural environment by conserving, replacing or even enhancing wildlife habitats along its route.

To ensure that HS2 achieves its sustainability goals, there is a documented commitment to use recognised environmental rating schemes such as BREEAM and CEEQUAL and achieve ‘Excellent’ rating for its stations, depots, other railways buildings and infrastructure works under these standards.

This paper explains the mechanism built to embed sustainability assessment commitments into the project and how it has been cascaded to the supply chain. It also provides insight into the importance of these rating schemes on the project and touches on some key enablers and challenges for embedding sustainability assessments on a large and complex infrastructure projects.

Sustainability schemes

Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) sets (or is) the standard for best practice in sustainable design and has become the de facto measure used to describe the sustainability performance of buildings[1]. CEEQUAL on the other hand is the sustainability assessment scheme for civil engineering and infrastructure projects and CEEQUAL v6 is the successor to the BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) scheme[2].

Both schemes are run by BRE Global Ltd. and share similar evidence-based methodologies to assess and certify projects. Assessments are rated and certified on a scale of Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent and Outstanding. An Excellent rating generally represents industry best practice and is achieved at 70% score and for BREEAM and 75% score and above for CEEQUAL.

Importance of sustainability assessments to HS2

At High Speed Two (HS2), sustainability is all about delivering social, environmental and economic benefits through the ambition of building the most sustainable high-speed railway in the world. Its key sustainability goal is to deliver a railway that respects the natural environment by conserving, replacing or even enhancing wildlife habitats along its route[3].

To ensure HS2 achieves its sustainability goals and to monitor the commitments made within the Sustainability and Environmental Policies, sustainability assessment tools such as BREEAM and CEEQUAL are used on the project.

These globally recognised and third-party audited tools provide a credible and reputed way to demonstrate the project’s sustainability credentials to all stakeholders. They also help in communicating the project’s performance expectations to the supply chain.

Not only do these tools assist in monitoring and evaluating the environmental impact of the works associated with constructing HS2, they also provide an excellent framework for managing a diverse set of sustainability topics and provide us with an opportunity to drive sustainability related behaviour change and innovation in the construction industry. Thus, ultimately leading to a better outcome for the railway.

Context and background information

In 2014, HS2 set a target rating of Excellent for all HS2 Phase One stations and depots under the BREEAM New Construction 2014 scheme and worked with BRE Global Ltd. in the development of the BREEAM Infrastructure scheme.

Later in 2015, when the BREEAM infrastructure (pilot) scheme was launched, HS2 committed to using it to assess and influence the sustainability of Phase One infrastructure. This subsequently led to committing the following in the HS2’s Phase One Environmental Memorandum [4] (as part of the Environmental Minimum Requirements (EMR) [5]) –

“all work shall be carried out in accordance with the HS2 Ltd Sustainability Policy and its associated commitments. Stations, depots and other railway buildings shall be designed and constructed to achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating under BREEAM New Construction Non-Domestic Buildings Scheme, whereas the infrastructure works – Enabling Works, Main Works Civils and Rail Systems – will be designed and constructed to meet BREEAM Infrastructure (Pilot) scheme with the aspiration to achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating”.

Setting these targets early on ensured HS2 continued with the legacy laid by previous major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and the Olympics by implementing best practices and raising environmental benchmarks for other contractors.

Since 2015, similar commitments have been set for the other two phases of HS2 as well.

In 2019, following the merger of BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) and CEEQUAL, HS2 adopted CEEQUAL v6, the successor to BREEAM infrastructure (pilot) to harmonise the assessment schemes across all Phases.

Embedding sustainability assessments in the project

Post setting these sustainability assessment targets in the Phase One EMRs,

  • Achieve a minimum ‘Excellent’ rating against the BREEAM UK New Construction (2014) non-domestic buildings for HS2’s Phase One stations, depots and other railway building.
  • Achieve an aspirational ‘Excellent’ BREEAM rating target for HS2’s Phase One infrastructure works – Enabling Works Contracts (EWC), Main Works Civils Contracts (MWCC) and Rail Systems under BREEAM New Construction Infrastructure (pilot) scheme.

The next challenge was detailing how BREEAM/CEEQUAL targets and requirements would be realised and set out for different contract types. This led to the creation of two different technical standards, one for BREEAM buildings and the other for BREEAM infrastructure which was later superseded by CEEQUAL.

These standards formed part of HS2’s Project Requirements Specification (PRS), a comprehensive register of the performance requirements of all disciplines, including environmental requirements.

Since, the target and technical standards on BREEAM were developed early on the project, it also formed part of the Invitation to Tender documentation pack which helped contractors appropriately price for this piece of work and plan resources and design requirements to minimise any additional cost associated later in achieving the required rating.

HS2 BREEAM/CEEQUAL Technical Standards

The BREEAM buildings technical standard detailed the key contractual obligations for its stations, depots and other railway buildings (such as Network integrated Control Centre) whereas the BREEAM Infrastructure/CEEQUAL technical standard focused on the key contractual obligations for its infrastructure works – Enabling Works, Main Works Civils and Rail Systems.

These technical standards were first developed for Phase One and later included information on other phases (2a and 2b), though the overall strategy remained the same to ensure route-wide applicability. Hence, the approach described in this paper sets out the rules established based on implementing the BREEAM/CEEQUAL targets and requirements on Phase One of the project.

Table 1 below outlines the route-wide approach on using BREEAM and CEEQUAL schemes.

HS2 assets

Phase One

Phase 2a

Phase 2b

Stations, depots





BREEAM Infrastructure (Pilot)




Railway Systems




Table 1: HS2’s approach to applying sustainability assessment route-wide

Table 2 below describes what was covered under each of these technical standards and the reasons for its inclusion.

Content list

Reasons for inclusion

Context and high-level scope

This section provided the reader information about the need for assessing and certifying and its relevance to the project.

Introduction to relevant scheme (BREEAM New Construction/BREEAM infrastructure (pilot)/ CEEQUAL version 6)

This section provided background about scheme information including a high-level overview about the methodology and how it works.

HS2 Phase specific target and contractual requirements

This section focused on Phase specific targets, approach for assessing the contracts and key requirements including appointments, baseline and deliverables expected.

HS2’s Minimum Performance Requirements (MPRs)

This section listed out the specific MPRs credits list which were mandatory to target and achieve.

HS2 Reporting Requirements

This section detailed the reporting requirements including reporting method, frequency and what contractors are required to report on.

HS2 BREEAM/CEEQUAL deliverables

This section specified various deliverables required to ensure the target and requirements were being met or achieved through the programme.

Additional information

This section included information on pre-assessments, registration, key document references and information on innovation and collaboration

Table 2: Overview of HS2’s Sustainability Assessment Technical Standard

Overall, the above mechanism provided a robust means to package all the relevant requirements and information on BREEAM/CEEQUAL for the contractors from the onset. It also helped them get a head start after contract award as they had all the material such as established baselines/expected scores, developed bespoke criteria and pre-registration information prior to commencing the main assessment. Therefore, these technical standards have been instrumental in embedding the sustainability assessment requirements into project strategy and the way these have been set out (including early availability to the contractors) is more comprehensive than on many other projects where these requirements have been included.

HS2’s Minimum Performance Requirements

A picture  showing HS2's Minimum Performance Requirements concept
Figure 1 HS2’s Minimum Performance Requirements concept

Within this standard, a concept of HS2’s Minimum Performance Requirements (MPRs) was also developed which comprised of scheme’s minimum standards for an excellent rating and some additional credits to drive sustainability best practice in infrastructure and built environment. These MPRs were mandatory to target by the contractors and went beyond the standard scheme’s minimum requirements.

As an example, for a station contract, ‘Mat 06 Material efficiency’ and ‘Wst 05 Adaptation to climate change’ issues under BREEAM 2014 scheme were mandatory to target as these formed part of HS2’s MPRs credit list but these credits were not part of the minimum credit requirements under the standard scheme. The reason for inclusion of these credits were to support the delivery of HS2’s Environmental Policy objectives on ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ and ‘Climate Change’.

This technique provided a way to internally compare similar contract-type assessments, as more or less same credits were being targeted by them. For example, the assessment of all HS2 stations could be compared against each other and so could the evaluation of all main civils works assessments. This helped in understanding any constraints or risks to not achieving the target rating on a route-wide level.

This concept also avoided any compromises in the implementation of an excellent rating strategy – something that is often seen during the value engineering stage. Under the technical standard, deviating from the MPR list or avoiding a particular MPR credit triggered a formal and a difficult departures process, providing rigour and a good quality assessment in the end.


To ensure contractors achieved their relevant scheme target, indicative baselines or pre-assessments were set out by HS2 and included within the technical standard. These pre-assessments explained how, based on HS2’s Project Requirement Specification (PRS) and the EMRs commitments, the contract can achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating.

Before beginning the assessment, the contractors were required to review the pre-assessment and propose any changes to ensure the strategy is agreed between both the parties and doesn’t change unless there is any major design change. They were also required to maintain appropriate contingency to allow for future design developments or changes.

A BREEAM/CEEQUAL reporting template was also provided initial to the contractor until an online sustainability assessment management tool was obtained to capture their assessment details. The report template was required to be updated quarterly by the contractor and included a progress summary of the assessment, highlighting any risks in achieving the required rating. This approach created an assurance process to monitor progress and manage risks raised, evidence gathered and pending actions.


Another key contributor to ensuring the targets and requirements were realised was the inclusion of a sustainability champion, a resource in addition to the assessor, to monitor progress against the agreed BREEAM/CEEQUAL performance targets. Besides coordinating assurance activities relating to the sustainability assessment, the champions also managed the interface between the project team and HS2 Ltd on sustainability matters and ensured their teams were aware of HS2’s sustainability ambitions.

As these assessments were lengthy and required a lot coordination, HS2 IPTs (Integrated Project Teams) also nominated BREEAM/CEEQUAL champions for each contract to support the facilitation and management of the assessments and were the main point of contact for the contractors. This formed a clear communication strategy between HS2 and contractors, resulting in a smooth delivery of the assessment.


Figure 2 summarises HS2’s BREEAM/CEEQUAL embedding and delivery strategy –

A picture showing the overview of HS2's BREEAM/CEEQUAL strategy
Figure 2 Overview of HS2’s BREEAM/CEEQUAL strategy

Key enablers

The key enablers for embedding and delivering HS2’s sustainability assessment were leadership, collaboration and innovation – which acted as three pillars for effectively managing BREEAM/CEEQUAL through the supply chain.

HS2’s Environmental Minimum Requirements (EMRs) are the project’s high-level environmental sustainability commitments and are a contractually binding suite of documents. These commitments acted as a key enabler from a leadership perspective for embedding sustainability assessment standards into the very makeup of the HS2 Project whilst setting a good precedent for upcoming infrastructure/railway projects. HS2’s Sustainability and Environmental Policies support the use of these recognised scheme to achieve a better sustainable outcome. Thus, they were influential in setting higher aspirations within the technical standards.

Collaboration with BRE or with its contractors assisted in effectively managing the delivery of these assessments. For example, HS2 actively engaged with BRE to develop the bespoke criteria for its stations, depots and infrastructure works This helped in minimising technical queries and gave a head-start to its contractors by agreeing the criteria before commencing the assessment. Similarly, HS2 collaborated with the Tier 1 Main Works Civils Contractors and Enabling Works Contracts to start a Working Group to manage the queries on the new BREEAM infrastructure (pilot) scheme as the supply chain was a bit apprehensive about its application. The HS2 Phase One BREEAM (infrastructure) working group ultimately resolved the new scheme challenges by discussing technical issues, sharing best practices and fostered a collaborative culture.

HS2 is committed to innovation and actively encourages and supports innovation across the programme. BRE schemes also provide opportunities for exemplary performance and innovation to be recognised that are not included within, or go beyond, the requirements of the standard assessment criteria [6]. Some BREEAM innovation credits that HS2 have contributed to are outlined below which help push innovation across the supply chain.

  1. Materials Efficiency Metric, a metric developed by HS2 to demonstrate more efficient use of materials through the design development and construction process. This was rolled out to the contractors to use and report as it encourages a wider view of material efficiency (e.g. designing out the use of materials up front rather than limiting to recycled content). Eventually leading to a lower carbon impact, lower cost and lower resource use.
  2. Surplus excavated materials, to ensure surplus excavated materials are used at their highest value in line with circular economy principles through providing the material as raw inputs to manufacturing, HS2 added a requirement that contractors were required to supply surplus excavated material to product manufacturers as a replacement for raw material which would otherwise have been obtained from a commercial source.
  3. In line with circular economy principles, HS2 developed a strategy to utilising timber felled during construction projects which is generally chipped and left on site or incinerated. Clearance contractors were asked to clearly identify how wood was managed and the proportion and quantity that was returned to communities or sold to produce timber products. This new approach identified commercial/community value of felled timber and encouraged working with communities to realise benefits e.g. providing new benches from felled timber was recognised as innovated.


Embedding and delivering sustainability assessments on a large infrastructure project such as HS2 throws many challenges. One of the key challenges was applying different schemes to different contracts, it meant clearly defining the scope and exclusions for each of the technical standards. The scope of the assessment was further refined by setting out a boundary rule within the stations and depots bespoke criteria by BRE, which provided guidance on which elements need to be assessed by either BREEAM infrastructure (pilot)/CEEQUAL v6 and/or BREEAM buildings. This approach helped improve efficiency and avoid double-counting, especially for those contracts which had both building and infrastructure assets.

Another challenge was development of bespoke criteria and guidance notes specific to contract types which sometimes led to refining the approach for assessing certain credits and categories. As an example, for the stakeholder consultation credit, different set of conditions were accepted as the standard criteria wasn’t applicable to the scheme. Similarly, for infrastructure assessments, the Land use and Ecology section was assessed route-wide rather than on a contract-by-contract basis due to HS2’s commitment to No Net Loss to biodiversity.

Another major challenge was transitioning from BREEAM infrastructure (pilot) scheme to CEEQUAL v6 as the EMRs for HS2 Phase One accompanying the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act 2017 require that HS2 infrastructure works – Enabling Works, Main Works Civils and Rail Systems to use BREEAM Infrastructure (Pilot) scheme. And adopt CEEQUAL v6 as a recognised environmental rating system (for Phase 2a and Phase 2b) to assess the infrastructure works given Phase One was using BREEAM infrastructure (pilot).

This meant changing the contractual requirement and understanding legal and technical implications of changing the scheme mid-way through the contract on Phase One. And understanding whether the new CEEQUAL v6 can be used on the other phases.

The BREEAM leads took legal advice from the in-house legal team to comprehend the consequences on the EMRs for each Phase. To support the transition, HS2 commissioned an independent review to understand the potential impact of using CEEQUAL v6 across its works. All the evidence was presented to the Technical Board to make the decision which later led to adopt CEEQUALv6 on the project and instruct Phase One Main Works Civils Contractors (MWCC) to transition to the CEEQUAL v6 assessment methodology following the successful completion of their Design Stage Assessment under BREEAM Infrastructure (Pilot).


Laura Harding, Head of Environmental Policy HS2 Ltd.

Ben Cartmell, Ex Phase One BREEAM lead, HS2 Ltd.

Chris Broadbent, Former Director of CEEQUAL and BREEAM Infrastructure, BRE Ltd.

Ian Nicholson, Director of CEEQUAL and Infrastructure, BRE Ltd.

Sherril Subrayan, Senior Environmental Consultant, Atkins.


[1] – BRE Environmental Certification Schemes. [Accessed 17 November 2020]

[2] – CEEQUAL Introducing CEEQUAL Version 6. [Accessed 17 November 2020]

[3] – HS2 Sustainability. [Accessed 17 November 2020]

[4] – HS2 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Environmental Minimum Requirements Annex 4: Environmental Memorandum. [Accessed 17 November 2020]

[5] – HS2 Environmental Minimum Requirements for HS2 Phase One. [Accessed 17 November 2020]

[6] – HS2 CEEQUAL technical manual – innovation section. Not yet available in the public domain

Peer review

  • Mike de SilvaSenior Project Manager Delivery, HS2 Ltd