Obtaining a green building certification significantly increases the value of the building and makes it more attractive to potential tenants or buyers. The two most popular multi-criteria building certification systems are LEED and BREEAM. Which one should you opt for when planning your investment?

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Development of BREEAM and LEED certifications

Recent decades and associated environmental changes have led to the rapid development of certification systems that are used to verify if a building is energy efficient. While in the beginning they mainly addressed the energy consumption of the building, over time, as investor awareness and needs grew, the certification methods changed. It is not the construction itself or the energy efficiency of the building that plays an increasingly important role, but the entire impact it has on its immediate surroundings, its users, and the environment as a whole.

BREEAM and LEED – how do they differ?

Both systems were developed in the 1990s (BREAAM in 1990 in the UK, and LEED in 1998 in the USA), and although they are 8 years apart, the differences between them are mainly of a formal nature. Both certificates cover a range of criteria – from assessing the building materials, insulation, and construction to sustainability and environmental impact throughout the life cycle of the building. Each system has a specific rating level – BREEAM has five levels, from Pass to Outstanding, and LEED has four levels, from Certified to Platinum.

At the moment, no single certificate has managed to achieve full dominance, neither on a European scale nor even on the scale of a single country. Of course, there are differences in the popularity of the certificates on a global scale as well as between individual countries. 500,000 buildings are BREEAM certified, while only about 73,000 are LEED certified.

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At the local level, there are also significant differences. The Benelux countries tend to favour BREEAM, while Ireland favours LEED. And which certificate – BREEAM or LEED – is the most popular in the UK?

The statistics leave no room for doubt. There are almost 13,000 BREEAM-certified buildings in the UK and only less than 100 LEED certified ones. Those that are LEED-certified are most often associated with American corporations. We are talking about developments of such companies as Nike, Starbucks, and American fashion designers – Versace, and Jimmy Choo.

Why does BREEAM have an advantage over LEED in the UK?

Apart from the obvious reason that BREEAM is a British certificate, therefore it is the most popular there, it is worth bearing in mind that this certificate is adapted to the British construction law and British best practices. While LEED requires measurements, which are generally not carried out in the UK, BREEAM does not require any additional steps from the investor.

A second likely reason for BREEAM’s greater popularity is the lower cost of obtaining certification. The business models of the US Green Building Council (responsible for LEED certification) and BRE (responsible for BREEAM) are radically different.

The US Green Building Council is committed to the universality of green building professionals. Financially, the price for entry into the association for professionals who wish to obtain a professional certification of green building competency is low. The certificates and their renewals are relatively inexpensive. Consequently, the association currently has over 203,000 professionals promoting LEED. At the same time, the cost of building certification is high – up to a maximum of around GBP 38,500.

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1 Ninth Avenue, New York, USA. Applied systems: MB-SR60N, MB-SR60NY. Certificate: LEED Gold

On the other hand, the cost of obtaining a BREEAM certification for a building is much lower, but BRE licences for assessors are much more expensive and their annual renewal also costs more.

Therefore, while LEED enjoys better marketing thanks to more “promoters”, BREEAM certification is a cheaper solution from the perspective of the investor.

However, from the investor’s perspective, the most important thing is not so much the certificate’s cost as the return on investment”, explains Wojciech Brożyna, Managing Director of Aluprof UK. “Here, too, it seems that the BREEAM certification may be a better choice, due to its widespread recognition in the UK”, claims the expert.

“While working on many construction projects in the UK, we see interest in our systems, which have already been used in BREEAM-certified buildings, such as the MB-SR50N Effect system, which was used in the George Green Library, a building which scored Excellent in the BREEAM certification”, adds Brożyna.

Not only BREEAM or LEED

In addition to these two best-known certifications guaranteeing the low carbon performance of a building, there are also a number of standards related to specific solutions – e.g. Passivhaus or Cradle to Cradle certifications.

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Gera Building, Nottingham, UK. Applied systems: MB-104 Passive, MB-TT50.

In the UK, over 300 Passivhaus projects have already been completed and a further 220 are under construction. This demanding certification imposes stringent standards of airtightness and thermal insulation, which few manufacturers are able to meet. Aluprof, by using an innovative material called Aerogel in its MB-104 Passive Aero systems, is in a position to meet the requirements of Passivhaus Institute Darmstadt. Certification is also possible for other window and door systems made by Aluprof, such as MB-TT50 and MB-SR50N HI+, which enable the construction of large glazed areas in commercial and public buildings.

Let’s build a better future

Although the BREEAM and LEED certifications are the most popular systems currently available to investors, it is worth following the trends, as new solutions are emerging that take into account additional formats – such as the building’s impact on the well-being of its users or the social environment (WELL certificate).

It is also worth choosing widely certified building materials, which will facilitate later certification regardless of the adopted paradigm. Sustainable developments translate not only into image and financial benefits, but also ensure that the buildings will function for as long and as efficiently as possible in the context of the ever-accelerating climate change.

Article sponsored by Aluprof