Jump to: navigation, search

BREEAM has become the de facto measure or standard for the environmental performance of buildings in the UK.

Although voluntary, a number of Government departments and other public bodies either require or encourage the use of BREEAM. These include the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, UK health authorities and the Department for Education. Many private sector clients and developers also use BREEAM to deliver sustainable buildings.

This article describes BREEAM new construction and how it is applied to non-domestic buildings, explains how construction materials are assessed under BREEAM and gives guidance on the most cost effective routes to achieving BREEAM ‘Very good’, ‘Excellent. and ‘Outstanding’.

[top]What is BREEAM?

BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) is the leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings in the UK. It has been developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has become the de facto measure of the environmental performance of UK buildings. Although currently voluntary, many publically funded/procured buildings are required to be BREEAM assessed and reach a minimum BREEAM rating.

The BREEAM methodology is updated regularly; the current version for UK non-domestic new buildings is BREEAM 2014 New Construction[1]. Previous (pre-2011) versions of BREEAM had different schemes for different building types but under BREEAM 2014[1], these schemes have been consolidated into one scheme document applicable to most new, non-domestic buildings. A separate, similar scheme is available for refurbishing existing buildings. In addition to BREEAM UK New Construction, separate Technical Manuals are available for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These regional variants reflect the differences in building regulations in each country.


Eliot Park Innovation Centre, Nuneaton: Steel-framed, BREEAM 'Excellent' building

The primary aim of BREEAM New Construction is to mitigate the life cycle impacts of new buildings on the environment in a robust and cost effective manner. This is achieved through integration and use of the scheme by clients and their project teams at key stages in the design and procurement process. This enables the client, through the BREEAM Assessor and the BRE Global certification process, to measure, evaluate and reflect the performance of their building against best practice in an independent and robust manner.

Buildings assessed under BREEAM are awarded credits according to their predicted and actual performance, against 51 individual assessment issues within a range of nine environmental categories: management, energy use, health and well being, pollution, transport, land use, ecology, materials and water. Each issue addresses a specific building related environmental impact or issue and has a number of ‘credits’ assigned to it. Credits are awarded where a building demonstrates that it meets the performance levels defined for that issue in the BREEAM 2014 New Construction scheme document[1].

The number of ‘credits’ available for each individual assessment issue varies and generally the higher the number there are for a given issue, the more important that issue. Many credits are assessed using bespoke assessment tools and calculators developed by the BRE.

Credits are either mandatory, i.e. must be achieved for compliance, or voluntary. In addition, there are innovation credits which encourage exemplar performance or which recognise a building that innovates in the field of sustainable performance. The BREEAM 2014 New construction credits are summarised in the table.

BREEAM 2014 New Construction environmental sections and assessment issues
Energy Water Waste
Reduction of energy use and CO2 emissions Water consumption Construction waste management
Energy monitoring Water monitoring Recycled aggregate
Energy efficient external lighting Water leak detection and prevention Operational waste
Low or zero carbon technologies Water efficient equipment (process) Speculative floor and ceiling finishes
Energy efficient cold storage Adaption to climate change
Energy efficient transportation systems Functional adaptability
Energy efficient laboratory systems
Energy efficient equipment (process)
Drying space
Transport Materials Land use and ecology
Public transport accessibility Life cycle impacts Site selection
Proximity to amenities Hard landscaping and boundary protection Ecological value of site / protection of ecological features
Cyclist amenities Responsible sourcing of materials Mitigating ecological impact
Maximum car parking capacity Insulation Enhancing site ecology
Travel plan Designing for durability and resilience Long term impact on biodiversity
Material efficiency
Health and wellbeing Pollution Management
Visual comfort Impact of refrigerants Project brief and design
Indoor air quality NOx emissions from heating/cooling source Responsible construction practices
Thermal comfort Surface water run-off Life cycle cost and service planning
Safe containment in laboratories Reduction of night time light pollution Commissioning and handover
Acoustic performance Noise attenuation Aftercare
Safety and security

Credits achieved are weighted according to environmental category and then summed to produce a single overall score on a scale of Unclassified, Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent and Outstanding.

Although voluntary, a number of Government departments and other public bodies either require or encourage the use of BREEAM. These include the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, UK health authorities and the Department for Education. Many private sector clients and developers also use BREEAM to deliver sustainable buildings.

Building projects are assessed by registered BREEAM assessors and reviewed by a third party (BRE Global) before being awarded a certificate. Since 2008 it has been compulsory to undertake a ‘Post Construction Review’ to confirm that the ‘as built’ information correlates with the design information.

The Design Stage (DS) assessment and interim certified BREEAM rating confirms the building’s performance at the design stage of the life cycle. The Post Construction Stage (PCS) assessment and BREEAM rating confirms the final ‘as-built’ performance of the building at the new construction stage of the life cycle. A final PCS assessment is completed and certified after practical completion of the building works.

The BREEAM certificate, issued by the National Scheme Operator (NSO - BRE Global in the UK), provides formal verification that the Assessor has completed an assessment of a building in accordance with the requirements of the scheme and its quality standards and procedures. A BREEAM certificate therefore provides assurance to any interested party that a building’s BREEAM rating, at the time of certification, accurately reflects its performance against the BREEAM standard.

All BREEAM assessed and certified buildings are listed on Green Book Live (along with a directory of licensed BREEAM Assessors).

Anyone wishing to verify the BREEAM rating of a building can do so by either checking a building’s BREEAM certificate, which will contain the certification mark or by searching Green Book Live for a specific listing.

[top]BREEAM scoring

The BREEAM rating benchmarks for new UK construction projects assessed using the 2014 version of BREEAM are as follows:

BREEAM 2014 rating benchmarks
BREEAM rating % score
Outstanding ≥ 85
Excellent ≥ 70
Very Good ≥ 55
Good ≥ 45
Pass ≥ 30
Unclassified < 30

The BREEAM rating benchmark levels enable a client and other stakeholders to compare an individual building’s performance with other BREEAM rated buildings and the typical sustainability performance of new non-domestic buildings in the UK.

BRE claims that each BREEAM rating level broadly represents performance equivalent the following performance although there is no published evidence to substantiate this:

  • Outstanding: Less than top 1% of UK new non-domestic buildings (innovator)
  • Excellent: Top 10% of UK new non-domestic buildings (best practice)
  • Very Good: Top 25% of UK new non-domestic buildings (advanced good practice)
  • Good: Top 50% of UK new non-domestic buildings (intermediate good practice)
  • Pass: Top 75% of UK new non-domestic buildings (standard good practice)

[top]Minimum standards

Although BREEAM was designed to be a flexible scoring system in which different credits could be ‘traded’, since 2008 BREEAM has included minimum standards of performance in some key areas.

To achieve a particular BREEAM rating, the minimum overall percentage score must be achieved and compliance must be shown with the minimum standards shown in the table.

Minimum BREEAM standards by rating level
BREEAM issue Minimum standards by BREEAM rating level
Pass Good Very Good Excellent Outstanding
Man 03: Responsible construction processes None None None One credit
(Considerate construction)
One credit
(considerate construction
Man 04: Commissioning and handover None None None Criterion 9
(Building user guide)
One credit
(Building user guide)
Man 05: Aftercare None None None One credit
(Seasonal commissioning)
One credit
(Seasonal commissioning
Ene 01: Reduction of energy use and CO2 emissions None None None Five credits
(of 12)
Eight credits
(of 12)
Ene 02: Energy monitoring None None One credit
(First submetering credit)
One credit
(First submetering credit)
One credit
(First submetering credit)
Wat 01: Water consumption None One credit
(of 5)
One credit
(of 5)
One credit
(of 5)
Two credits
(of 5)
Wat 02: Water monitoring None Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only
Mat 03: Responsible Sourcing Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only Criterion 1 only
Wst 01: Construction waste management None None None None One credit
(of 4)
Wst 03: Operational waste None None None One credit
(of 1)
One credit
(of 1)
LE 03: Minimising impact on existing ecology None None One credit
(of 2)
One credit
(of 2)
One credit
(of 2)

BREEAM uses a weighting system derived from a combination of consensus based weightings and ranking by a panel of experts, to weight the scores achieved in each of the nine environmental categories. Different weightings are applied depending on the scope of the assessment, i.e. shell only, shell and core only and fully fitted out. The weightings for a 'Fully fitted out' building are shown in the table.

BREEAM Environmental section weightings
(fully fitted out)
Environmental section Weighting (%)
Management 12
Health & Wellbeing 15
Energy 15
Transport 9
Water 7
Materials 13.5
Waste 8.5
Land Use & Ecology 10
Pollution 10
Total 100
Innovation (additional) 10

The same set of rankings underpins the scoring mechanisms in the BRE Green Guide to Specification[2] and the BRE Environmental Profiling Method for construction materials[3].

The table below shows an example of how the scores in the nine BREEAM sections are aggregated to produce a final BREEAM score which, in this case, translates into a BREEAM rating of Very Good, i.e. a final BREEAM score >55.

Example of how the overall BREEAM rating is calculated
BREEAM section Credits achieved Credits available % of credits achieved Section weighting
(Fully fitted)
Section score
Management 10 21 47.62 0.12 5.71
Health & Wellbeing 17 21 80.95 0.15 12.14
Energy 16 31 51.61 0.15 7.74
Transport 5 12 41.67 0.09 3.75
Water 5 9 55.56 0.07 3.89
Materials 10 14 71.43 0.135 9.64
Waste 3 9 33.33 0.085 2.83
Land Use & Ecology 5 10 50.00 0.10 5.00
Pollution 5 13 38.46 0.10 3.85
Innovation 2 10 20.00 0.10 2.00
Final BREEAM score 56.56
BREEAM rating Very Good

[top]Innovation credits

BREEAM first introduced innovation credits in 2008. The aim of innovation credits is to support and encourage innovation in construction. An additional 1% can be added to the overall building score for each innovation credit; up to maximum of 10 credits, i.e. 10%.

Innovation credits can be awarded in two ways:

  • By meeting exemplary performance criteria defined within an existing BREEAM issue i.e. going beyond the standard BREEAM assessment criteria and therefore best practice. Only some assessment issues have exemplary performance criteria.
  • By application to BRE Global to have a particular building technology or feature, design or construction method or process recognised as ‘innovative’. If the application is successful and subsequently building compliance is verified, an ‘innovation credit’ can be awarded.

[top]Optimum routes to BREEAM targets

As part of the Target Zero programme, the most cost-effective routes to achieving a ‘Very good’, ‘Excellent. and ‘Outstanding’ BREEAM (2008) rating for five recently constructed non-domestic buildings was undertaken by AECOM and The Sweet Group (formerly Cyril Sweett). The five buildings are described here.

Base Case buildings were defined based on the actual specification and location of the real buildings and based on typical construction practice. The Target Zero study predates the publication of both Part L 2010 and BREEAM 2011 and therefore the Base Case buildings were Part L (2006) compliant and the BREEAM 2008 scheme was used.

All the credits that required additional work to achieve were attributed with a capital cost and assigned a ‘weighted value’ by dividing the capital cost of achieving the credit, by its credit weighting (under BREEAM, credits in different sections of the assessment, e.g. energy, materials, etc. are given different weightings). Credits were then ranked in order of cost-effectiveness and these rankings used to define the most cost-effective routes to achieving BREEAM (2008) ratings for each of the proposed buildings.

The table shows the capital cost increase or ‘uplift’ for the Base Case buildings to achieve the three top BREEAM (2008) ratings.

Cost to achieve BREEAM 2008 ‘Very good’, ‘Excellent' and ‘Outstanding’
Building Capital construction cost (£m) Capital cost uplift (%) to achieve BREEAM
Very Good Excellent Outstanding
Distribution warehouse 19.4 0.04 0.4 4.8
Supermarket 16.4 0.2 1.8 10.1
Secondary school 22.5 0.2 0.7 5.8
Office 61.7 0.2 0.8 9.8
Mixed-use 36.7 0.1 1.6 5.0

Reflecting the influence of location and other factors on the achievable BREEAM score and hence cost, different scenarios were modelled including different locations and site conditions and different design and contractor assumptions. Full results are presented in the Target Zero design guides.

By way of example, the costs to achieve BREEAM ratings for a large, city centre office building are shown. The results demonstrate a significant variation in cost depending on whether a ‘poor’ or ‘best’ design and construction approach is adopted. A 'poor' approach is defined as one in which credits are lost when decisions are not taken to pursue them at early stages in the design process. An example of an early design decision is procuring an exemplar contractor that is able to achieve contractor-related credits.

The breakdown of cost by BREEAM category is also shown. To achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating the cost is dominated by the cost of achieving the mandatory operational carbon reduction targets, i.e. the BREEAM energy credits.

B6 Fig7.png

Comparison of cost uplift for different approaches to design scenarios for a city centre office building

[top]Material assessment within BREEAM

Under BREEAM, construction materials are assessed under the five issues shown.

BREEAM 2014 Material assessment issues
Issue Description Credits available
Mat 01 Life cycle impacts Up to 6
(depending on the building type)
Mat 02 Hard landscaping and boundary protection 1
Mat 03 Responsible sourcing of materials 4
Mat 04 Insulation 1
Mat 05 Designing for durability and resilience 1
Mat 06 Material efficiency 1

The only minimum standard under the Material section of BREEAM 2014 is for Mat 03 (Responsible sourcing of materials) where Criterion 1 is required for all BREEAM rating levels.

[top]Mat 01 Life cycle impacts

The aim of these credits is to recognise and encourage the use of construction materials with a low environmental impact (including embodied carbon) over the full life cycle of the building.

Under Mat 01, credits are awarded on the basis of the building’s quantified environmental life cycle impact through assessment of the main building elements, including:

  • External walls
  • Windows
  • Roof
  • Upper floor slab
  • Internal walls
  • Floor finishes/coverings.

It is noted that the superstructure is not specifically included either within the Mat 01 scope of assessment or within the Green Guide to Specification[2]. According to BRE, this is because it is not possible to provide either representative functional units for these elements or comparable specifications. Elements of the structure are however included within the external wall and upper floor elements.

Mat 01 credits are awarded on the basis of the total number of points achieved for the building as calculated using the BREEAM Mat 01 calculator. This points score is based on the Green Guide[2] ratings achieved for the specifications that make-up the main building elements as shown. The Mat 01 calculator automatically weights different specifications based on area and also weights element ratings based on the relative areas of different elements, e.g. in a high-rise building, the upper floor area is much greater than the roof area and therefore the weighting reflects this ratio.

Translating Green Guide[2] rating into Mat 01 points
Green Guide rating Mat 01 Points
A+ 3
A 2
B 1
C 0.5
D 0.25
E 0

Where an independently verified third-party Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), covering part of or the whole life cycle, is available for a material/product that forms part of an assessed building element, this can be used to increase the contribution of that element to the building’s Mat 01 performance.

Life cycle Green House Gas emissions (kgCO2e) for each element are also required to be reported based on a 60-year building life. Where specific data are not available for a product or element, generic data from the Green Guide[2] should be used.

[top]Green Guide to Specification

The Green Guide to Specification[2] is an easy-to-use comprehensive reference website and electronic tool, providing guidance for specifiers, designers and their clients on the relative environmental impacts for a range of different building elemental specifications. The generic elemental ratings within Green Guide are based on LCA data generated using the BRE Environmental Profiles Methodology[3].

The Environmental Profiles Methodology[3] has been peer reviewed to comply with BS ISO 14040[4] and represents the Product Category Rules for BRE Global’s environmental labelling scheme (EPD - ISO 14025[5], Type III) for construction products and elements.

The Green Guide[2] provides summary and 13 separate environmental impact ratings for different construction specifications on a scale of A+ to E. Principal buildings elements are specified for a range of building types.

The ratings are based on relevant functional units for the element and building type, e.g. 1m2 of external wall to satisfy the Building regulations and to achieve a U-value of 0.3 W/m2K. The impact is assessed over a 60-year study period so that repair, refurbishment and replacement impacts are also taken into account.

The table gives the Green Guide[2] summary ratings for upper floor, external and internal wall systems commonly used in commercial and industrial buildings.

Selected Green Guide to Specification[2] summary ratings
Specification Green Guide summary rating
Upper floors
Power floated in-situ reinforced concrete floor slab C
Power floated post-tensioned in-situ reinforced concrete floor slab A
Power floated in-situ reinforced concrete slab on ‘deep’ profiled metal decking A+
Power floated in-situ reinforced concrete slab on ‘shallow’ profiled metal decking A+
External walls
Brick on light steel framing A+
Rendered blockwork on light steel framing A+
Polymeric render system on light steel framing A+
Steel panels/profile on steel frame with block infill A
Steel panels/profile on steel frame with metal stud infill A
Steel panels/profiles on steel frame with no internal finish A+
Rainscreen cladding on steel frame with block infill A/A+
Rainscreen cladding on steel frame with metal stud infill A/A+
Internal walls
Galvanised steel studwork A

[top]Mat 03 Responsible sourcing of materials

The aim of this credit is to recognise and encourage the specification of responsibly sourced materials for key building elements. The following building elements are assessed:

  • Ceiling (including finishes)
  • Door/window
  • Floor (including finishes)
  • Insulation
  • Internal partition/internal walls
  • Roof
  • Structure (primary and secondary)
  • External walls
  • Building services
  • Hard landscaping
  • Other.

To achieve points for any given building element, at least 80% of the materials that make-up that element must be ‘responsibly sourced’. Scoring is based on a tiered system and element scores are aggregated using the BREEAM Mat 03 calculator.

Excluding the many timber chain of custody schemes, responsible sourcing is demonstrated either via BES 6001[6] or BS EN 8902[7] or a certified environmental management system (EMS).

[top]Environmental management systems (EMS)

The requirement under Mat 03 is for an EMS to ISO 14001[8]/EMAS or equivalent standard or an EMS is in compliance with BS 8555[9].

Within the tiered Mat 03 scoring system, an EMS is required for either the ‘key process’ or both the ‘key process’ and the ‘key supply chain processes’. These processes are material dependent and are defined in the BREEAM 2014 Technical Manual[1]. For metal construction products:

[top]Steel-framed, BREEAM 'excellent' buildings

[top]Steel-framed, BREEAM 'outstanding' buildings


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 BREEAM UK New Construction, Non-domestic buildings (United Kingdom), Technical Manual, SD5076: 4.1 2014. BRE Global Ltd.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Anderson, J., Shiers, D., Steel, K. The Green Guide to Specification, 4th ed., BRE and Oxford Brookes University, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 BRE Global methodology for environmental profiles of construction products. SD6050. BRE, 2008.
  4. ISO 14040:2006. Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework. International Standards Organisation
  5. ISO 14025:2006. Environmental labels and declarations -- Type III environmental declarations - Principles and procedures. International Standards Organisation
  6. BES 6001: ISSUE 3.0 Framework Standard for the Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products, BRE Environmental & Sustainability Standard, 2014
  7. BS 8902:2009 Responsible sourcing sector certification schemes for construction products. Specification, BSI
  8. ISO 14001:2015. Environmental management systems - Requirements with guidance for use. International Standards Organisation
  9. BS 8555:2003. Environmental management systems. Guide to the phased implementation of an environmental management system including the use of environmental performance evaluation. BSI


Target Zero design guides:

[top]See also