BREEAM - a brief introduction


What is BREEAM? (One man's impressions)

BREEAM stands for the BRE Environmental Assessment Method.

From its beginnings in 1990 in the UK, BREEAM has grown to become the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings. BREEAM provides a holistic approach to assessing and auditing buildings for their environmental impact. The process uses licensed BREEAM Assessors or BREEAM In-Use Auditors

Whilst being firmly based on UK and EU legislation, BREEAM has been successfully adopted in other countries worldwide because it is able to use the local best practice and evidence can be accepted in the local language. For example: the Netherlands’ Green Building Council has adopted BREEAM as its preferred environmental assessment standard; BREEAM Gulf has adapted the process, making water their key issue instead of energy, which is more critical in colder climes; BREEAM is looking to assisting Brazil.

The impressive adoption of BREEAM globally can be seen on the GreenBookLive map (WARNING: it takes a while to appear on my PC)

The other major player in environmental assessment is LEED, the US based system which does not require training and trained assessors, though it is advantageous to use an accredited professional (AP). For a comparison of the two, see James Parker’s article  “BREEAM or LEED - strengths and weaknesses of the two main environmental assessment methods” at


What does BREEAM do?

BREEAM sets standards for the best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation. Measures of a building’s specification, design, construction and use are set against established benchmarks and scored. The criteria include a broad range of categories and criteria from energy to ecology, and aspects related to energy and water use, the internal environment (health and well-being), pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes.

BREEAM is useful two stage process. The first stage helps in guiding the planning process for sustainable design and construction, from public planning by local authorities to development projects, to commercial and residential properties. The second stage is a mandatory post-construction review.

At the end of the process, your project achieves a certified BREEAM rating. This gives you a clear indication of the standard of your building. Ratings are (lowest to highest):

  • Unclassified
  • Pass
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Excellent
  • Outstanding


BREEAM Schemes

BREEAM has a variety of different schemes tailored to specific purposes. At the time of writing (March 2013) these are:

  • For the planning stage – BREEAM Communities
  • For design and construction – BREEAM New Construction 2011
  • For in-use – BREEAM In-Use
  • For refurbishment – BREEAM Refurbishment.

Later this year (mid 2013), BREEAM International 2013 will be released, followed next year by BREEAM Non-Domestic Refurbishment 2014.

The Code for Sustainable Homes was developed from BREEAM and is now owned by the Departmend of Communities and Local Government. BREEAM is one of the providers of CSH Assessment.


How do you get a BREEAM certified rating?

BREEAM outlines a 6 stage process on achieving a certified rating for the UK:

  1. Decide Which BREEAM scheme applies to your project
  2. Contact a licensed BREEAM Assessor or BREEAM In-Use Auditor
  3. Carry out a pre-assessment, to help understand what you could achieve
  4. Register your project for an assessment
  5. Get certified at the design stage and the post–construction stage
  6. Get your building/assets listed on GreenBookLive!

More information is available as a flow chart from


BREEAM - continued improvement

No system of assessment is perfect and this is true for BREEAM. However it does appear to adapt and be refined.

In 2012, 9 out of 10 respondents to a survey said BREEAM was a good thing, however, 75% said it could be made better (The Value of BREEAM, A BSRIA Report

Lucy Black, Chair of the BIFM sustainability special interest group commented in an interview (BREEAM or Bust, that the system needed to be refined. The next big step after designing a BREEAM Building is to run it under the standards and outcomes under which the rating is given.  

The other criticism found was within the 2011/12 “Review of Education Capital” by Sebastian James Written for Michael Gove, Department of Education, James criticises BREEAM for being very prescriptive for schools, though he does recognise that the 2011 consolidation has reduced the bureaucracy and detail to some degrees.

Considering that any scheme will be subject to some criticism, Lucy Black ended her interview with the comment that BREEAM has been good at focussing minds on sustainability and building designs that would have been worse off without it.


BREEAM Present and Future

BREEAM sees itself as a market leader and its flexibility in adapting to local regulations in different countries makes it very attractive. At EcoBuild 2013, I certainly gained the impression that BREEAM is very actively expanding its global reach. For the most up to date BREEAM news, visit


Contact Tollé Green Architecture's UK representative, Chris Thomas, if you are are looking for a UK company involved in sustainable construction, with an ethical and social dimension.