Subscribe to our newsletters & stay updated
An organization that introduced its green standard program for existing buildings to the United States two years ago plans to release another standard for our country, this time for new construction.
The UK-based Building Research Establishment, or BRE, has teamed up with global architecture, engineering and design firm HOK and plans to release the standard in January.
“We're already well on the way to ‘Americanizing’ the standard,” says Barry Giles, CEO, BREEAM USA and a LEED Fellow. “That’s obviously taking the metric out and putting feet and inches in, and then replacing the ISO EU standards with applicable ASHRAE standards, but they have to be done very carefully. We cannot make any credit easier or harder when we make these changes to Americanization. The reason for that is, we are a true international standard.”
What is BREEAM? BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. Simply put, BREEAM is a protocol and process for researching building design and construction to ensure that it meets environmental standards.
BRE started BREEAM in 1988 with the first widespread use of its standards in 1990. At the time, BRE was a government agency, but shortly thereafter became a private organization dedicated to promulgating its standards throughout the world.
Consider BREEAM’s green certification as eco-building for the rest of us since it covers more buildings than other green-building plans and does so with few barriers to enter the process.
“BREEAM In-Use offers something unique: a very cost-effective benchmarking and certification program that is available to all commercial existing buildings regardless of size, age or performance level across all aspects of building operations,” Giles says.
Above all, Giles wants the AEC community to easily put building performance data to work right away.
“While the BREEAM program has a certification role at the end of it, the most important thing is benchmarking,” Giles says. “Getting the data into the hands of the team immediately in real-time will do that. Yes, putting a plaque on a building is wonderful. But plaques are nothing more than a piece of recycled glass. We want to see somebody certified, yes, but what I want them to do is get the data out and make use of that data now.”
One focal point about BREEAM is its inclusivity.
For example, its In-Use plan for existing buildings is open to any occupied nonresidential commercial building, regardless of size or condition. Even parts of buildings rather than the entire structure can be considered. As a result, BREEAM protocol typically refers to “assets” rather than buildings.
BREEAM also has no performance measures that must be meant first before taking part in its processes. LEED for Existing Buildings requires, for example an ENERGY STAR score of 75. As a result, BREEAM In-Use makes an estimated 5.6 million buildings eligible for its program that would not be eligible for LEED EB.
“We don’t believe that,” Giles says about the ENERGY STAR requirement. “We believe that first of all, that you should understand how much energy your building is using, mark that against our standard, and then be able to say, ‘That is not very good,’ or, ‘That is very good.’ ”
BREEAM is also a downright bargain to get started. For a $1,000 registration fee, building owners/operators can opt to start an online self-assessment examination.
Based on this initial evaluation, owners receive an instant, but unverified score and a rating of Outstanding, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Pass or Acceptable. The registration fee gives building owners/operators access to the online performance measures for one year.
With this data, building owners/operators can benchmark their properties, consider what-ifs and identify areas of improvement.
“To get a robust and comprehensive result, specific questions must be asked across a broad range of operational aspects,” Giles explains. “Answers, then, must be available that will provide findings to make informed decisions on improvements to the building. The BREEAM In-Use program looks at all the component parts of a building and builds a comprehensive table that gives you lots of options to choose from.”
Giles says a lot of participants use the scorecard internally without pursing formal certification.
Users, however, who do want to pursue certification, must hire certified BREEAM In-Use Assessors to verify their scores. There are upfront charges, plus either annual renewal fees and/or annual recertification fees depending the type of certification.
According to Giles, many building owners and operators are seeking alternatives to some available green-building programs.
“Newer programs do have their place – but most don’t offer a holistic method to improve operations and maintenance,” Giles explains.
Keep in mind that while we in the U.S. might consider BREEAM a new name, to Giles it is an old organization that traces its origins back to the 1920s. From his vantage point, LEED and other green-building groups are the newer programs.
“Yet that is exactly what most building owners and operators are most concerned about,” he explains. “That’s why BREEAM reaches out and forms collaborative programs and crosswalks with other organizations to enable building operation teams to ‘mix and match’ criteria to establish a program that exceeds tenants and clients requirements.”
Giles barely had the In-Use plan open for business in the U.S. when his organization announced a green collaboration with the International WELL Building Institute. In 2016, BRE and IWBI agreed to identify areas where their two systems overlapped, making it easier for building owners to achieve certification from both
The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
BREEAM isn’t so much one standard as it is a philosophy of designing energy-efficient, long-lasting, sustainable architecture, and aiding architects, engineers and contractors in the process of meeting those goals all while staying within budget and on time.
As a result, there are multiple standards contained within a single umbrella.
Although BRE has introduced the U.S. to two of its international standards, it has two others that might be introduced in the future.
History of BREEMA
Developed in 1990 and used in more than 70 countries, BREEAM rates the sustainability of buildings and infrastructure based on performance benchmarks. BREEAM has more than 2 million registered projects and more than 560,000 certified buildings in 77 countries, making it the top global green certification program by volume.
BRE got its start in 1921 as the Building Research Board as part of an effort to improve housing in the United Kingdom. Today, BRE is owned by a charitable trust that uses the profits to fund research and educational programs to advance knowledge, innovation and communication in all matters of the built environment.
Our main feature covered some of the differences between BREEAM and other green-building plans.
But the bottom line distinction with BREEAM, from BREEAM USA CEO Barry Giles’ point of view, is that the BRE’s benchmarks are based on scientific research.
“BRE conducts intensive scientific research into all aspects of the built environment, and profits from BREEAM are turned back into the research community through such avenues as universities around the world,” Giles says. “In fact, approximately $25 million has been transferred into research grants from BRE products so that others can benefit. This helps to reinforce that BRE’s scientific results are peer-reviewed and trustworthy.