Blog: Getting to Know BREEAM USA

A new (to us) rating system has been picking up steam in the U.S. In this week’s post we examine the green building rating system known as BREEAM USA. We take a look at BREEAM USA, it’s history, it’s components, and compare it to the world’s most popular green building rating system, LEED®.

BREEAM is the acronym for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology and it was developed in the U.K in 1990. Since then, it has become the prominent green building standard in the U.K., even being built into many government regulations there. In 2009, BREEAM In-Use (the standard for existing buildings) and BREEAM USA (the U.S. standard) were adapted from the U.K. version and introduced.

BREEAM USA In-Use is most closely comparable to the well-known LEED for Existing Buildings Operations + Maintenance. While the standards have similarities, there are many differences between the two. We will get to that in a second. Let’s first dive into the details of the BREEAM USA In-Use standard.

The BREEAM USA In-Use process is as follows:

  1. Register your building (also known as an asset)
  2. Complete the online self-assessment tool
  3. Instantly receive the building’s “unverified score”
  4. The final, and optional, step is an on-site visit by a licensed BREEAM In-Use Assessor for formal certification

The BREEAM USA In-Use standard is broken up into three parts. The standard addresses:

  • Environmental performance of the building itself including construction, materials, etc.
  • Operations and maintenance of the building
  • Management of building tenants and their activities within the building

The interesting part is that one, two, or all three of these parts can be chosen to measure performance of a building. Not all three are required. To measure performance, the online self-assessment asks questions in nine categories:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Management
  • Waste
  • Pollution
  • Health & Well-being
  • Land Use & Ecology
  • Materials

The online assessment results are instantly given with a rating of: Acceptable, Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent, or Outstanding. This process allows owners and managers to evaluate their building and improve performance over time. Like other green building standards you can pursue official certification. This requires an on-site BREEAM assessor visit. This gives owners and managers third party verification and market recognition. The standard requires annual re-certification to keep the certification valid if desired.

BREEAM USA In-Use touts itself as the standard that can reach all buildings by not having prerequisites like LEED does. Which brings us to the comparison of the two standards. According to green building professionals, the certification process is the biggest differentiator of the standards. Some key differences include:

Data Collection: BREEAM sends licensed assessors on-site to collect information, evaluate the building’s features, and report the information back to BRE, whereas LEED relies on the design team to collect evidence and submit it to Green Business Certification, Inc (GBCI).

Evaluation: With an on-site licensed assessor doing the evaluation, BREEAM is able to require more specific, prescriptive information. You’ll also pay a bit more for this on-site visit. If a project is pursuing LEED certification, the information the project team is required to provide may be less prescriptive or stringent than BREEAM, but project teams may spend more time gathering the information to prove compliance.

Measurement: Lastly, the way in which the standards measure are a bit different. BREEAM is considered more rigorous, requiring quantitative measurements. Whereas, LEED is seen as simpler, using threshold and percentage requirements.

These are just a few differences between the two standards. As we know, there are many different approaches to creating green buildings around the globe. Choosing the right standard for your project takes careful consideration of options and opportunities. Education is an important part of this process. As professionals in the green building industry for many years, the 3R Sustainability team has evaluated projects to a variety of green building standards and can help you navigate your options. 

For more information on BREEAM USA In-Use visit the website: