Sustainability and commercial property: what you need to know about BREEAM

UK-based sustainability scheme BREEAM is crossing the Atlantic with an appeal to building owners who see existing certifications as “cumbersome, expensive” and “impossible to achieve." America’s history of …

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UK-based sustainability scheme BREEAM is crossing the Atlantic with an appeal to building owners who see existing certifications as “cumbersome, expensive” and “impossible to achieve."

America’s history of using local and renewable resources for buildings spans millennia, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

‘Green’ buildings can be traced back to the Anasazi or ‘Ancient Ones’ who inhabited the Four Corners region (southern Utah, south-western Colorado, north-western New Mexico and northern Arizona) from approximately 200AD to 1300AD and who heated their homes with solar heat in the winter months.

In the 1960s and 70s, the high price of oil meant that more research was directed into finding energy-efficient and renewable resources and this spurred the earliest experimentation with modern green buildings in the US.

However, the more contemporary green movement sprang from concerns over global warming and the desire for less resource-hungry building practices.

Now policymakers and building professionals are thinking more than ever about how buildings – from residential homes to corporate headquarters – can be constructed, maintained and operated more sustainably.

Over a building’s lifetime, the occupants and the building itself consume a great deal of energy and water and in turn produce carbon emissions and waste, negatively affecting the environment and adding to pressure on limited resources. But as well as benefitting the environment, improving the sustainability of buildings can also cut your energy costs.

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) is an internationally recognised measure of sustainability and is used in 77 countries across the globe. 

In total, more than 530,000 BREEAM certificates have been issued across 24,000 projects and more than 2.2 million buildings are currently registered for certification.

BREEAM, which is managed by the London-based Building Research Establishment (BRE), has been the UK’s leading environmental assessment system for more than two decades. Now it’s crossing the Atlantic, taking on its US counterpart Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

The LEED environmental rating system is used in around 150 different countries (not including the UK) and has completed more than 80,000 certifications with one million buildings in the process of being certified.

BRE has partnered with US-based LEED certification consultancy BuildingWise to bring BREEAM to the US.

Aiming to address the 5.6 million commercial buildings in the US that are not making enough effort to improve their sustainability, Gavin Dunn, global director of BREEAM, said: "Many of today’s buildings are not equipped for the future and underperform against their potential, wasting resources and unnecessarily impacting the environment."

BREEAM US will use the assessment method BREEAM In-Use, which drives property owners and investors towards sustainable improvements in existing non-residential buildings.

BREEAM In-Use will give business owners a framework for improving operational sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint.

During the assessment, each section is divided into a range of issues that promote targets and benchmarks. When the targets are reached, credits are awarded to the building.

Once the building has been assessed fully, a final performance rating is determined by tallying up the credits.

Although LEED far outstrips BREEAM in terms of international adoption, BuildingWise CEO Barry Giles says that BREEAM In-Use is easier to use and less expensive than its LEED equivalent – a major advantage given 70% of US-based building owners and construction professionals told Dodge Data & Analytics that high costs were the biggest obstacle to making buildings greener.

 “We are so excited to finally bring BREEAM to the US to open up the option for many of the existing buildings in this country that don’t currently use a building certification program because the available systems are seen as cumbersome, expensive and require prerequisites that many buildings find impossible to achieve," said Giles.

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