What is BREEAM?


Matthew Griffiths

January 21st, 2022

Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method, known to its friends as BREEAM, is a means to access sustainability, assisting with the design and planning of construction projects to be more environmentally sympathetic.

By setting benchmarks and targets, BREEAM aims to establish best practice standards for the environmental performance of buildings.

In fact, it’s the world’s leading suitability assessment method, well, according to BREEAM.com.

Subject to some mispronunciation, let’s clear up the name first. BREAAM is pronounced like ‘gleam.’ Not like its similarly named fishy friend, bream (pronounced brim), nor the often-used mispronunciation of Bre-AM.

Ok, enough of that, you’ve got the idea.

History of BREEAM

The development of BREEAM started in the late 1980s by the BRE Group before being launched in the United Kingdom in 1990.

BRE, or Building Research Establishment, to give it its full name, itself dating back to 1921 and is a collaboration of researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians. At the time, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) proposed the introduction of an organisation to investigate construction methods and the use and type of materials within the sector.

The organisation has since branched out into timber, lit up fire research and developed a form of certification, BRE Certification, in 1999. Seven years later, following international recognition, this became BRE Global.

Present-day, BRE Global sits alongside BRE Trust under the BRE Group banner.

Where is BREAAM Used?

BREEAM is used across a multitude of building projects, from infrastructure to developments, whether newbuild or refurbishment.

Developments can include projects such as offices, retail, education buildings, healthcare buildings, whilst BREEAM can offer bespoke assessment for non-standard buildings.

At conception stage, such as during master planning, BREEAM standards and guidance can be followed to plan a project to be sustainable from the outset, linking together its different facets under one sustainable umbrella.

At these early stages, specifications can be written to complement the master plan and sustainability targets by selecting and using appropriate materials. Standards for construction and operational use are set out under BREEAM, ensuring environmental best practices are followed.

The UK Government specifies within its Government Construction Strategy that environmental assessments are to be carried out on all public projects, confirming that where BREEAM is used on new projects, an excellent rating is required.

Local planning authorities may similarly adopt BREEAM and require certification within its local plan or impose BREEAM as part of the planning conditions for development.

Why is BREEAM important?

BREEAM is used to ensure that buildings, developments, and projects are built in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. Furthermore, once they are built, they are sustainable during their lifecycle and operation.

This helps to reduce the impact of construction and development in the face of extreme global warming challenges.

What Does BREEAM Assess?

Third-party, BREEAM trained assessors evaluate the sustainability performance of individual buildings, communities, and infrastructure projects, scoring schemes across ten headings:

1. Energy
2. Land Use and Ecology
3. Water
4. Health and Wellbeing
5. Pollution
6. Transport
7. Materials
8. Waste
9. Management
10. Innovation

There are several states of assessment and certification:

–       Pre-Assessment: This is optional and available to help the design team understand the requirements of BREEAM and where their current designs need to improve to achieve the BREEAM certification.
–       Stage 1: Design stage assessment where an interim certificate can be issued.
–       Stage 2: Post-construction assessment where a final certificate and rating will be issued.

BREEAM Assessment Categories

  • Energy: Relates to the energy efficiency of building solutions, systems and equipment through design and specification. Assessments are carried out on works to improve the efficiency of buildings, reduce carbon emissions, and support efficient management during the building’s life.
  • Health and Wellbeing: Focuses on the increased comfort, health and safety of occupants, visitors and others in a building. It aims to enhance the quality of life through health and safety.
  • Land Use and Ecology: Encourages sustainable land use, creating new and protecting existing habitats alongside the improvement of long-term biodiversity of the site and its surroundings. It aims to enhance the ecology and long-term biodiversity of brownfield sites and sites with low ecological value.
  • Materials: Assesses the steps taken to reduce the impact of construction materials. Materials are to be sourced in a responsible way and are assessed across their extraction, processing and manufacturing and recycling.
  • Water: Takes a view at ways to reduce potable water consumption both inside and outside of properties. Sustainable water use includes reducing the risk of water loss through leakage.
  • Pollution: Inspires the prevention and control of pollution, including surface water runoff. Light, air, noise, water and land pollution, plus flooding, are under the spotlight here.
  • Transport: Promotes better access and use of sustainable means of transportation for building users, including access to public transport and cycling facilities to reduce CO2 emissions and congestion from car journeys.
  • Waste: Supports the sustainable management of construction waste, operational waste and future repairs and maintenance. Recognises steps taken to reduce waste should the building be adapted due to climate change in the future. Good design and construction practices encouraged to reduce waste arising during construction and the operational life of the building.
  • Management: Looks at the role of sustainable management practices and how they are adopted throughout the design process, construction, commissioning and handover of the building. Throughout the life and operation of the building, robust, sustainable objectives are to be set out and followed.
  • Innovation: This allows for the recognition of innovation and enhanced performance that goes beyond the credit criteria. Innovative products and processes are encouraged for cost-saving.

What certification is available, and how is BREEAM Scored?

Both assessments and certifications can occur at several stages, from design and construction to operation or even at the refurbishment stage.

Each of the assessment categories is sub-divided into additional areas for review. Each sub-division has targets and benchmarks for the overall scheme to gain the rating it requires. The BREEAM assessor will award each section a score (credit) when the benchmarks and targets have been achieved. The overall weighted credit scoring determines the final project score.

Depending on this performance, the third-party BREEAM assessor will award the scheme its certification as one of the following:

  • Acceptable
  • Pass
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Excellent
  • Outstanding


The world continues to face an unprecedented need to control and prevent global warming, with many stating that the tipping point is not that far away, so action is needed now. BREEAM works to ensure that the impact of construction and the daily usage of buildings is sustainable and environmentally sympathetic across various assessment elements.

A BREEAM rated development demonstrates that works have been successfully undertaken to achieve this sustainability while improving the lives of the people who live and work in the buildings.

Photo by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

About Matthew Griffiths

Matthew takes great pleasure in combining his two professions. One has seen him give two decades of service to the construction industry, from roles as an Estimator through to sitting on Boards. The second is his passion for the written word. He now has the best of both worlds, building homes and constructing written content.

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