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What is BREEAM? | Design your sustainable fit-out with it in mind

How Getting Certified Can Help Your Building.

It’s estimated that globally, the construction and operation of buildings make up nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that modern planners, architects, and businesses alike are moving towards ‘Green Buildings’ – especially when their benefits have been proven to not only combat climate change, but also to save significantly on long-term operational costs, reducing energy, water consumption, and maintenance costs.

As sustainability in the building industry increases, you may find yourself confused by the multitude of assessments and certifications out there. Several exist, but today we’re going to break down just one of these certifications – BREEAM.

What is BREEAM

BREEAM is the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Model. Launched in 1990, this was the first green building certification in the world and is an internationally recognised standard for green buildings.

A new building, a retrofit, or a build-out can be assessed by BREEAM, and each building is given a certified star rating of one to six, with five designations given: “poor,” “good,” “very good,” “excellent,” or “outstanding.”

A BREEAM assessment looks at everything from design and construction to refurbishment to end-of-life, and provides a benchmark for success while verifying the sustainability of a project.

Compared to other green certification programmes like LEED and Green Star, BREEAM is one of the most rigorous and comprehensive assessments available. Additionally, BREEAM uses quantitative standards that are independently assessed, whereas some other green certifications rely on self-reported data.

What Does BREEAM Measure?

For buildings wanting to earn a high BREEAM rating, it’s crucial to understand the assessment process. BREEAM-certified assessors look at several different categories in order to rate the building. The categories are:

  • Energy
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Innovation
  • Land use and ecology
  • Materials
  • Management
  • Pollution
  • Transport
  • Waste
  • Water

In each of these categories, assessors seek to answer the following questions:

1. Is the design low-impact?

2. Will it be carbon-neutral?

3. How durable is the design?

4. Will it be able to be adapted in the face of climate change?

5. Will it protect the area’s biodiversity?

Based on the answers, the assessors will then designate one of the five ratings listed above. This then allows a client or stakeholder to compare a building’s BREEAM performance against other green buildings.

What Benefits Does a BREEAM Assessment Offer?

Having a BREEAM-certified building can help a building better manage its resource efficiency, which in turn, can save your property money on operating costs. Additionally, BREEAM is seen as a high standard of building quality and can promote property investment into the building and wider community.

Also, getting BREEAM certified can make your building a healthier place for tenants to work, as well as generate good press around your company. While it can be costly to undertake, the long-term benefits of doing so can largely increase revenue and reduce turnover while placing you as a sustainable leader within the industry.

What does a High-rated BREEAM Building Look Like?

In the UK, while 75% of new buildings pass the BREEAM assessment, roughly only 1% of these new buildings achieve an ‘outstanding’.

Bloomberg’s European Headquarters in London is commonly referred to as the most sustainable building in the world. It was certified ‘Outstanding’ by BREEAM with a 98.5% score – the highest ever achieved. The building has integrated ceiling panels made of 500,000 LED bulbs that use 40% less energy than traditional lighting. In addition, rainwater is recycled and used for vacuum flush toilets, there is natural ventilation and smart airflow, and all waste is recycled, composted or converted to energy.

Most buildings will not come close to that level of achievement, but you can still achieve a high rating by ensuring similar aspects are addressed. For retrofits, in particular, this may mean:

  • Increasing heating and cooling efficiencies
  • Adopting a waste diversion scheme to ensure optimal waste management
  • Ensuring building materials for the project are sourced sustainably
  • Changing lights to LEDs or other energy-efficient bulbs.

Even those relatively small actions can help put you well on your way to a high BREEAM rating. To get a ‘very good,’ an ‘excellent,’ or an ‘outstanding,’ you’ll need to invest a lot upfront, including looking into rainwater harvesting, renewable energy (preferably on site), and achieving zero waste.

Bloomberg Sustainability Recycling

How Can My Building Be Rated?

BREEAM’s website offers the following instructions for putting your building forward for certification:

• Decide which BREEAM standard applies to your development – new construction, refurbishment and fit-out, in-use, or communities.

• Find a licensed BREEAM assessor to assess your project or building to the correct BREEAM standard.

• Carry out a pre-assessment with the assistance of your licensed Assessor, utilising their experience and expertise – this will allow you to see where you will roughly rate, without going through the entire process.

• Register your project for assessment through your appointed licensed BREEAM assessor.

• Complete the certification process with your assessor. This process can take several months and will require you to find documentation about your building to aid in the process.

• Receive your listed BREEAM certificate and showcase your achievement with a case study, BREEAM banner or plaque from the BREEAM online shop.

How Can We Make Existing Building More Efficient?

Buildings can be refurbished to become more compliant with the BREEAM certification – whether this is remodelling or adapting the existing building.

Consider the following when refurbishing:


  • Can the materials in your refurbishment be more environmentally friendly, for example, by having a higher recycled content?
  • Can they help to minimise both carbon and water in your building by consisting of lower amounts of these?
  • Can they have a longer lifespan or be more durable?
  • Can they be sourced locally?


  • Can waste be minimised through your project cycle, with elements retained, reused or recycled?
  • Can Method Recycling Stations be added to ensure recycling is effective within your building and waste is diverted from landfills?


  • Can you install tools that will help you harvest rainwater or recycle greywater?
  • Can you specify and install water-efficient fixtures and fittings?


  • Can you install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems?
  • Can you use LED lighting or tools that will better insulate your building?

Looking for a BREEAM Architect

If you're looking to build rather than refurbish, you'll need to make sure you do your research before enlisting an architect to turn your sustainability dreams into a reality. Have they worked on previous BREEAM-certified projects? Are they qualified to complete your build with the level of knowledge required?

The architect should also be able to translate the clients ideas into reality, using both common architectural sense, and the most up to date technology and methods. This might include solar panels, thermal mass building construction, green materials, including wood, stone, or earth (or even recycled waste materials, such as tyres or glass or plastic bottles).

Sustainable Build

Bottom Line: Is BREEAM Right for You?

BREEAM is one of the top global standards for green building certification. Whether you’re looking to do a refurbishment, a new fit-out, or build a new property, it’s a great thing to consider.

Getting certified will add you to their official registry, which can help bolster your building’s PR, as well as show potential investors, tenants, and other stakeholders that you care about sustainability on a large scale. It’s not an easy process, but getting certified can open new doors for your building and save you money in waste and energy over the long term.

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