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Review of global environmental assessment methodsOctober 2011

As international pressure grows to prove environmental credentials in the industry, Irena Saniuk draws a global map of the main environmental assessment methods.

It all started with BREEAM - arguably the grandee of all building environmental assessment methods. The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, to give it its original title, is celebrating its 21st birthday. In its teenage years many similar methodologies for rating building sustainability have popped up. What they all share in common is a delight in acronyms: LEED, DGNB and HQE to name but three.

At least 20 out of the 83 green building councils around the world have developed their own certification schemes. Countries that have not yet finished forming a nationally appropriate system have adapted one or more of the existing schemes. Many of these schemes have gone beyond the original concept laid down by BREEAM. Some have adopted product certification standards, such as the Green Building Product Certification Scheme (SGBC) launched by the Singapore Green Building Council in 2010.

Given that there is now a global mosaic of building environmental rating schemes, we need to know their features, their purpose, and the costs of using them. The main schemes are described below, with associated schemes in use around the world shown in Figure 1. The figure also shows the LEED International Roundtable members and BREEAM/LEED certified buildings. The best place to start is with the grand progenitor: BREEAM.


Launched in 1990, BREEAM is used to assess buildings of any type. It's been a successful British export and is used all over the world.

Country-specific schemes have been launched in the Netherlands (BREEAM NL) and Spain (BREEAM ES). Schemes for Sweden and Norway (BREEAM SE and BREEAM NOR) are under development and will soon operate under licence from the operating company, BRE Global.

Around 200 000 certificates have been issued since the BREEAM scheme started. At least 633 buildings have been certified under the 2008 or newer versions of BREEAM, of which 73 are outside UK and the majority of those located in France.

The latest version for new construction, BREEAM 2011, is designed to keep pace with improvements in UK construction practice. For example, BREEAM 2011 tightens the targets for construction site waste. It also allows users to demonstrate compliance with sustainable procurement through the use of BSRIA's Soft Landings process, published as the Soft Landings Framework.

Certification fees for BREEAM vary from £1170 to £3650 depending on project type. BRE levies additional fees such as registration.

A global map of environmental schemes.


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification system, developed by the US Green Building Council in 1998.

Like BREEAM, LEED certification is available for all building types including new construction, existing buildings, shell and core, and fit-out. Interestingly, it also covers domestic dwellings, which, in the UK, is covered by the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The system has been successfully modified and adopted by many countries, including India, Canada, Italy and Brazil. In addition, more than 20 countries have also joined the LEED International Roundtable.

By March 2011, a total of 8579 LEED certificates have been issued worldwide. The certification fee varies from $2250 to $27 500 depending on a project's rating ambitions, size, and whether the applicant is a member of the US Green Buildings Council.

Green Star

Launched in 2002, Green Star is a rating system developed by the Green Building Council of Australia and modelled on BREEAM and LEED. Country-specific versions are also used in New Zealand and South Africa.

To date, 345 Green Star certificates have been issued in Australia, with 92 within the last 12 months. The certification fee varies from AUD 8,000 to 33,000 depending on size of the project and membership of the Green Building Council of Australia.


The DGNB (Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Nachhaltiges Bauen) certification system was developed in 2009 by the German Sustainable Building Council.

As with the other systems described here, the DGNB covers all the relevant issues of sustainable construction. DGNB is organised around six so-called qualities: ecology, economy, socio-cultural and functional issues, techniques, processes, and the site.

To date, 155 buildings have been certified or pre-certified using DGNB, including those located in Austria, Switzerland and Luxemburg. Some countries, such as Hungary, have developed their own rating based on DGNB. The certification fee varies from €1600 to €20 000. As with BREEAM, other fees such as registration may apply.


Estidama was launched two years ago. It is the first assessment scheme specifically tailored to the Middle East.

Estidama is a building design tool to help developers construct and operate buildings and communities more sustainably. The scheme is a key part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the drive to build the city of Abu Dhabi according to innovative green standards.

The scheme is not something that people do, nor is it a green building rating system like the LEED or BREEAM schemes. Rather, it is a collection of ideals that are imposed in an elective building code format.

However, Estidama does use a green building rating process called the Pearl Rating System. This is used to evaluate sustainable building development practices in Abu Dhabi.

In terms of its present goals, Estidama is focused on the rapidly changing built environment. It is in this area that the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) is making significant strides to influence projects under design, development or construction within Abu Dhabi.

Differences between schemes

The main difference between the various national assessment systems is the weight they give to different environmental categories. These naturally follow the main environmental and social issues for that region, which results in rating systems tailored to account for climate and local culture. Some systems also give credits for compliance with building regulations.

For example, Japan's Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE) is more concerned about land use, while Estidama (sustainability in Arabic) was developed by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.

Not surprisingly Estidama stresses the importance of water conservation.
In some of the systems a building has to score against all the criteria, so a client or designer cannot select the assessment criteria. So if a building is weak in one category, it will be penalised for not earning a credit.

In some countries the assessment of a building cannot be separated from its local environment. For example, a building will be marked down on its sustainability if local health and educational systems are weak or non-existent.

The future

Most green ratings around the world tend to be voluntary systems. The unanswered question is how quickly they will become an essential aspect of all planning applications contributing to the sustainable development.

Irrespective of the timing, there is one other common trait of global rating systems: a trend for both the process and the assessment criteria to become progressively more demanding and more complicated. This leaves the construction industry worrying about the effect on building development, and, more importantly, what effect it might have on the environment and on building occupants.

For green rating schemes to have a future, construction industries and clients around the world need to be provided with tangible proof from the schemes' operators that increasingly demanding rating systems will actually make a positive difference, not add cost and complication.

Green certification must add value to all, not become a souvenir trinket from hell.

Irena Saniuk MSc is a BREEAM assessor with BSRIA.  BSRIA provides a range of building compliance services including BREEAM assessments

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