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

It’s official: buildings contribute up to one third of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Consider then the impact we can make by redesigning our cities to be more sustainable and less destructive to the natural world.

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 greatly on long-term operational costs, reducing energy, water consumption and maintenance costings.

What does BREEAM mean?

‘Sustainability’ has become a buzzword, one that doesn’t always guarantee an environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral build. How can we know for certain which of our buildings are excelling?

Enter BREEAM (or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), the independent third party certification of the assessment of the sustainability performance of individual buildings, communities and infrastructure projects – leading in the U.K. and used in over 70 countries worldwide.

But how does it work? Each building is given a certified rating which looks at its entire lifecycle – from design and construction, to refurbishment to end-of-life – and provides a benchmark for success while verifying the sustainability of a project.

The ratings range from Acceptable to Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent to Outstanding and is reflected in a series of stars on the BREEAM certificate.

What makes a building rate highly for BREEAM?

From energy to ecology, a BREEAM rating is decided by a series of categories. These categories answer the following questions: is the design low-impact? Will it be carbon-neutral? How durable is the design? Will it be able to be adapted in the face of climate change? Will it protect the area’s biodiversity?

To receive an ‘Outstanding’ from BREAAM, a building must excel in each of the following areas:

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

Method Recycling Stations have been shown to help divert waste from landfill to an exceedingly high degree, and can be easily adapted to add new waste streams. Effective recycling bins, designed to be out in the open, promote sustainable behaviours by introducing accountability into a space. Other ways to increase your rating in the waste category include using reclaimed and recycled materials in construction, and organising waste service providers that will work with your needs.

Example: What does a high-rating BREEAM building look like?

Bloomberg’s new European Headquarters in London has been certified ‘Outstanding’ by BREEAM with a 98.5% score. The building has integrated ceiling panels made of 500,000 LED bulbs that use 40% less energy than traditional lighting, rainwater is recycled and used for vacuum flush toilets, natural ventilation, smart airflow, and all waste is recycled, composted or converted to energy.


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
• Appoint a licensed BREEAM assessor to assess your project or building to the correct BREEAM standard
• Register your project for assessment through your appointed licensed BREEAM assessor
• Carry out a pre-assessment with the assistance of your licensed Assessor or AP, utilising their experience and expertise
• As your project and assessment progress, collate the necessary project information and pass this to your assessor
• Your licensed assessor will review the information and determine compliance with the standard
• Your licensed assessor will submit their assessment to the certification body for a certification decision
• 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 buildings 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 landfill?


  • 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?

Here’s how to find the right architect to ensure your BREEAM certification is high.

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 projects that have been recognised by BREEAM? 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).

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