Green Certification "For the Rest" of the Building Stock

10/01/2017 | By Chris Olson

BREEAM is designed to give every building a place to embark on continuous improvement

Look out – here comes another lengthy acronym in the alphabet soup of green building certification.

BREEAM (two syllables, breeam) is the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology. It originated and remains based in the U.K. In the U.S., the program is licensed by BREEAM USA (

Despite its recent arrival on this side of the pond, BREEAM has a large, worldwide base of users. A key element that sets it apart from other benchmarking and certification tools is inclusivity. Nonresidential commercial buildings of any size, in any condition and with any occupied use are eligible. 

The program has no prerequisites. In contrast, LEED EB (Existing Buildings) has a number of prerequisites, including a lofty ENERGY STAR score of 75. Consequently, an estimated 85% of the existing U.S. stock – some 5.6 million buildings – is not eligible to pursue LEED EB. 

Rather than shoot for an ideal level of performance – one that most existing buildings might never be expected to meet – BREEAM is designed to guide and encourage continual benchmarking and performance. 

“It’s really for the rest, all those buildings that cannot realistically aspire to the highest performance levels,” says Barry Giles, CEO of BREEAM USA. “We need to give kudos to people with buildings that will never receive a plaque for performance in the top 5% but who have nonetheless been very successful at advancing sustainable operations.” 

A whole building is not required for BREEAM; a part of a building or a floor with all relevant service and amenity areas is sufficient for an assessment. Thus the BREEAM methodology frequently refers to “assets” rather than buildings.  

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) owns and operates BREEAM USA. Originally an establishment of the U.K. government, BRE has been owned since 1997 by a charitable organization, the BRE Trust, which is responsible for the U.S. program. 

Breaking Down BREEAM’s Elements

BREEAM has four programs for various buildings and lifecycle stages:

  • BREEAM Communities for master planning larger building communities
  • BREEAM New Construction for residential and commercial
  • BREEAM In-Use for existing commercial buildings
  • BREEAM Refurbishment and Fit-Out for residential and commercial 

The methodology for all is the same around the world. In the U.S., only the In-Use program is currently available. However, plans call for the Refurbishment and New Construction programs to be launched in the U.S. in the near future. 

An asset undergoing an In-Use assessment must be complete and finished and it must contain occupied spaces. The program has three parts: 

  • Part 1 – Asset Performance: the performance of the asset’s built form, construction, fixtures, fittings and installed services
  • Part 2 – Building Management: the management of the asset
  • Part 3 – Occupier Management: the management of building users and services (for office buildings only)

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