How BREEAM became a globally recognised standard for sustainability

How BREEAM became a globally recognised standard for sustainability

Since its launch in 1990, BREEAM has become known around the world as a mark of quality for sustainable construction.

Since its launch in 1990, BREEAM has become known around the world as a mark of quality for sustainable construction. Now in its 25th year. Martin Townsend reviews some of the key elements that have made BREEAM so influential, and explains how to become involved in the scheme.

BREEAM is an internationally recognised measure of a building’s sustainability. Some 535,000 buildings have been BREEAM certified, with a further 2,217,000 registered for certification. While many of these are in the UK, increasing numbers are now in more than 74 other countries.

Highly flexible, the BREEAM standard can be applied to a very wide range of building types and locations, with versions for new buildings, existing buildings, refurbishment projects and large developments. These projects are assessed, rated and certified on a scale of ‘Pass’, ‘Good’, ‘Very good’, ‘Excellent’ and ‘Outstanding’.


The BREEAM assessment process is based on an international network of more than 2600 fully trained and licensed, independent BREEAM Assessors. This approach gives added assurance that BREEAM rated buildings are genuinely as sustainable as they claim – and that the highest scoring buildings represent some of the best examples of sustainable design and construction across the UK and the world.

Ratings determined by the assessors are subject to quality assurance by BRE Global, which manages BREEAM.

The use of independent assessors reflects the impartial ethos of the BRE Group. The Group is owned by BRE Trust, a charitable company that aims to advance knowledge, innovation and communication in all matters concerning the built environment. This ownership structure has enabled the Group to be held as a national asset, independent of specific commercial interests.

Scientifically robust

BRE has been at the forefront of scientific research and development in the built environment sectors for more than 90 years, and in recent decades has taken a leading role in sustainability. This experience, expertise and ongoing research provides the robust science that underpins BREEAM and is key to its enduring success.

Launched in 1990, BREEAM is now the worlds longest established and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings. A tried and tested standard, it is nevertheless regularly updated in line with new developments, evolving legislation, feedback from users, and consultations with professionals and experts around the industry. Look out for our international update in 2016.

‘BREEAM has a strong reputation as an environmental standard,’ says Stuart Rimmer, Construction Project Director with the Peel Group, the client on the MediaCityUK project (Media City - Follow the link)‘Using the scheme on development projects gives us confidence that we are designing and constructing sustainably, and gives our clients and tenants confidence that the green credentials claimed for our developments are accurate. People know and trust the BREEAM standard – if you get a BREEAM “Excellent”, for example, there is no doubt or argument about what you have achieved.’


The BREEAM assessment encompasses sustainability in its widest sense – not just energy use and carbon emissions, but also a wide range of issues concerned with water consumption, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management.

Issues covered in the area of health and wellbeing, for example, include microbial contamination to ensure that building services are designed to reduce the risk of legionellosis in operation.

Driving sustainability

The aim of BREEAM is not only to recognise and reward buildings with genuinely sustainable credentials, but also to improve sustainability in those buildings and in the built environment as a whole. The targets set by the BREEAM standard encourage and help developers and project teams to push beyond regulatory requirements for sustainability.

Early engagement with BREEAM, so that sustainability issues are considered from the outset rather than ‘bolted on’ later in the process, helps to ensure that maximum benefit is achieved at little or no extra cost. The early involvement of the BREEAM assessor, with his or her extensive knowledge and experience in gaining the best sustainability outcomes, is similarly beneficial.

Market recognition

A BREEAM rating can make a building more marketable, both to tenants and purchasers because BREEAM is recognised as a mark of quality for sustainable construction – and for its potential for cutting operational costs.

‘Sustainability reduces running costs – energy use, waste disposal, etc,’ says Stuart Rimmer. ‘We retain many of the assets we build and take a close interest in their life costs. There is also a lot of pressure from potential tenants to design and construct sustainable buildings with lower running costs – if we don’t provide them with the sort of building they want, they will go somewhere else.’

BREEAM worldwide

BREEAM can be used anywhere in the world, by the use of BREEAM International, there is also a growing number of country-specific BREEAM schemes operated by National Scheme Operators (NSOs).

Getting involved

Many building services engineers and building professionals of all kinds are variously involved in BREEAM. For example they can:

  • Attend awareness training courses to extend their knowledge of built environment sustainability.
  • Obtain professional qualifications – for example, becoming BREEAM Accredited Professionals (APs). BREEAM APs can have important roles in projects seeking BREEAM ratings or greater sustainability in general.
  • Become licensed BREEAM Assessors – this involves completing a three-day training course followed by an exam and a homework case study exercise to be completed within three months. The resulting BREEAM International Licence also allows them to carry out assessments using the BREEAM Europe Commercial scheme.
  • Initiate or participate in the process that leads to their organisation becoming a National Scheme Operator.

  For more information visit: BREEAM

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