We’ve taken an in-depth look at the office of the future, but it goes without saying that the office of the future should also be sustainable and future proof. With all of the exciting advancements in technology, it’s all too easy to forget about the fact that we have a duty to think responsibly about the detrimental effect that thoughtless design can have on the environment.

Over the years, there’s been added emphasis on the importance of sustainable features being incorporated into workplace design. As such, we asked sustainable building consultants, Melin Consultants, to share their thoughts on the benefits of BREEAM and LEED.

Over the course of a building’s lifetime, the occupants and the building itself consume a substantial amount of energy, producing carbon emissions and waste, which negatively affects the surrounding environment and puts a strain on limited resources. By improving the sustainability of your building, you can help the environment and potentially reduce your energy costs. It’s a win-win situation. BREEAM and LEED can help you to do this, but what’s the difference?

Understanding BREEAM

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BREEAM refers to the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for buildings. In a nutshell, it’s a nationally recognised measure used to describe a building’s environmental performance.

In the UK, our building industry continues to strive for a zero carbon future. This means that tighter standards are needed to ensure that new buildings are constructed to a higher calibre of construction in order to minimise the negative effects on the environment. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has the responsibility of setting the assessment methods and quality standards by which UK buildings are tested. BREEAM is what they use to test the sustainability of commercial properties.

BREEAM has become ingrained within the UK’s plans for a sustainable future. It now features heavily in design briefs and planning policies. BREEAM’s key advantage is that it uses UK legislation and standards in order to award credits. What’s more, it builds on these UK standards and awards credits for additional factors of sustainability. For example, there are credits available for complying with standard commissioning codes and for meeting the targets of Site Waste Management Plans.

Whilst BREEAM has almost a decade more experience behind it than LEED, there is a growing interest in LEED, especially from multinational companies that are looking for consistency across their global portfolios.

LEEDing the way

- istock 23107882 small 3850 - Paramount D&BAlthough it’s a relatively new concept in comparison to BREEAM, LEED builds on its structure and topics. It was originally developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and was a US adaptation of BREEAM. However, whilst it was originally a US accreditation, LEED has grown in popularity within the UK over the last few years.

With LEED, building owners only get an award when the building is completed and additional credits are given for innovative ideas that are not acknowledged under the scheme. In a strange twist of fate, BREEAM ended up taking inspiration from LEED and introduced a similar approach. As of 2008, building owners could no longer get a BREEAM certificate at design stage without having to follow through into construction.

Spot the difference

Due to the fact that it’s based heavily on UK legislation, BREEAM is currently more popular than LEED. It’s an official requirement that all government departments have a BREEAM rating of each of their buildings, and most local authorities require BREEAM as part of planning approval for developments that are over a certain size.

With that being said, there are some notable differences. Generally speaking, a LEED accreditation is slightly easier to achieve. This can be considered a weakness for business owners who are pushing to improve overall environmental performance. For example, one element of LEED concentrates on the percentage of recycled content and local sourcing, whilst BREEAM gets more deeply involved to try and understand the wider environmental impacts of building elements. It does this by scoring in accordance with the Green Guide to Specification and a ‘responsible-sourcing’ index. As such, it becomes far more complicated to demonstrate compliance with BREEAM. Overall, BREEAM is generally seen as being stricter as it sets absolute targets, whereas LEED sets relative percentage reduction targets.

Short term, it may seem more expensive to pay for things like BREEAM but in the long run, you’ll save more money with lower energy bills. To sum up, it’s time that we all take extra responsibility for the effect that we have on the environment and it doesn’t really matter whether you use LEED or BREEAM to achieve that outcome.