Green Certification "For the Rest" of the Building Stock

Sept. 22, 2017

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)

For Parts 2 and 3, consumption data for at least one year is required prior to assessment. Users can choose to measure and certify one, two or three parts.

Getting Started

A $1,000 registration fee is the cost to get started, which gives the owner/operator access to the online performance measurement tools of all parts for one building for one year. After completing a part’s assessment questions, owners receive an instantaneous unverified score and a rating (Outstanding, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Pass or Acceptable). Whether pursuing verification or not, owners can use their score to benchmark properties, evaluate what-if scenarios and identify areas for improvement. Worldwide, 2.2 million buildings have registered for assessment since BREEAM was launched in 1990.

“A lot of people use it internally for benchmarking without wanting to pursue formal certification,” Giles says.

An asset without the latest technology and building equipment might have a modest score for Part 1. Nevertheless, the green operation of a given building might be very effective. Such management success could be reflected in a comparatively higher score for Part 2 than Part 1. 

If registered users wish to take the next step and pursue certification, they hire a BREEAM In-Use Assessor to verify their asset’s score. Assessors are licensed by BREEAM USA and they are independent. They cannot undertake verification for their own company or for properties for which they have previously provided consulting or other services. As the verification fee is not fixed, each user negotiates a price (based on building size and the amount and readiness of the required data) with an assessor. All verification is done by the assessor at the site.  

The assessor pays quality assurance fees ($750 for each part to be certified) directly to BRE America when submitting an asset for certification. Certificates for Parts 1 and 2 can be renewed annually up to two times for $250. Renewals do not require a site visit. Part 3 certificates require annual recertification. Worldwide, BRE has issued more than 558,000 asset certifications. 

The BREEAM USA In-Use Technical Manual is available for free download at

Chris Olson chri[email protected] is Chief Content Director of BUILDINGS.

Retail Developer Is First to Use BREEAM USA

With no other green certification programs in the U.S. available to assess shopping centers, Macerich, a shopping center owner/operator/developer, chose to pilot the BREEAM In-Use program in 2016. 

The firm decided to apply the methodology to its Oaks shopping mall in Thousand Oaks, CA. Built in 1978, the 1.3 million-square foot mall had made many efficiency upgrades prior to the assessment, including 6,000 solar panels, LED lighting and integrated thermal controls in common areas and mall offices. The upgrades at the Oaks were comparable to those of other properties in its portfolio. In addition, the mall’s proximity to the Macerich headquarters would encourage close interaction among Macerich, its building manager and the BREEAM assessor.   

The assessment results have been valuable, according to Jeff Bedell, VP of Sustainability for Macerich, who says it helped Macerich identify opportunities to improve management practices. The Oaks received a rating of four stars for Asset Management (Part 1) and three stars for Building Management (Part 2).  

This year Macerich is pursuing BREEAM certification for 10 more of its properties, and Bedell is looking forward to benchmarking sustainable performance across them. Pursuing BREEAM is time-consuming, however. 

“It is an extensive measurement tool and it takes time and resources to answer all the questions,” Bedell says, so owners should anticipate the resources needed when undertaking BREEAM. “But the results have been well worth it.”

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