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BREEAM 2008 vs. LEED 2009 – introduction

by Mel Starrs on January 18, 2010

in BREEAM versus LEED

I promised, what seems years ago, to write some thoughts on the differences between LEED and BREEAM. Initially I had intended to pull together the highlights into one article, as I was sure I had seen a credit by credit analysis elsewhere. I can’t now find that and this post had started to get monstrously long, so this is the first of 3 articles.

I’ve been BREEAM qualified since about 2002, around half my professional career, and LEED-AP for almost a year. BREEAM in particular has been good to me over the past decade although I do have my reservations.

For new readers or those coming from the US, you might want to start with my rough guide to BREEAM 2008. And for an excellent primer on LEED 2009, I cannot recommend highly enough this post over at Real Life LEED.

BSRIA have an excellent article here from February 2009 which covers some of the differences between the two schemes:

So is the dynamic tension between two competing systems desirable? Clearly, a one-size-fits-all assessment scheme would be difficult to achieve on a global basis. For example, water efficiency is a major issue in Dubai and Australia, but not in Scotland and nor in Wales. So different issues need to be ranked differently to match regional environment and regulations.

While LEED is dominated by the American ASHRAE standards, BREEAM takes it cue from European and UK legislation. The regional versions of both schemes flow from those antecedents.

BREEAM Gulf has been adapted for the local market. Gone are the Good, Very Good, and Excellent ratings, and in comes star ratings. The weightings are changed so that water is the key issue, rather than energy as in the standard UK schemes. In addition to the CIBSE guidance being the measure for certain credits, ASHRAE and other standards are also now referenced in BREEAM Gulf.

BREEAM has long been able to adapt to local contexts. With BREEAM Bespoke, for example, the assessor can work with BRE to develop assessment criteria specially tailored to a building where it doesn’t fit neatly into one of the existing schemes.

I would interject at this point and say that this is a bit of a fallacy. Whilst BREEAM Bespoke is flexible, the core content of the credits is already set out – clients often believe they will be able to write credits from scratch if they go down the BREEAM Bespoke route and can be disappointed when they find they can’t.

LEED, however, has not been created with this level of adaptability and it is not run that way. Instead it is fixed to the ASHRAE standards and the US way of thinking (for example, credits are awarded for having enough car parking spaces, rather than minimising them as in BREEAM).

There are also differences in the way LEED calculates credits. They are generally linked to the US Dollar (especially the energy credits), which means that if the exchange rate is unfavourable, then the building’s rating could suffer.

A key change that may make LEED more exportable is the introduction of regional bonus credits. Six regional priority credits will be available based on what the US-GBC’s regional councils and chapters deem important, environmentally, in that region.

A downside is that these credits are not available for non-US projects. However, there are national versions of LEED being developed by individual national green building councils. Canada was the first, followed by India. Countries such as Brazil and Italy are looking to have their own versions soon.

The table above is courtesy of Eszter Gulacsy from MTT/Sustain. It summarises the key differences between the two schemes, which I will go into some more detail in the next post.

A further consideration, going back to my post on politics in sustainability, is that BREEAM reflects UK thinking and LEED reflects US thinking. I have mapped where I think the two schemes might fall on the Nolan Chart:

LEED vs BREEAMFeel free to disagree with where I have placed them, I’m sure US readers will guffaw at my thinking that LEED is libertarian – it perhaps falls more into the centrist section?

Generally BREEAM dictates specific technologies or strategies, whereas LEED states the intention of the credit and leaves it up to the designers discretion as to how to meet it. This is an important difference. It would be interesting to compare the countries which have chosen BREEAM over LEED and see if there is any correlation to prevalent political thinking.

My next post in this series will begin to look at the detail, including a credit by credit breakdown of the two schemes.

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  • http://enermodal.com Matt Grace

    Hi Mel, I continue to enjoy your excellent stuff, sorry I have been quiet. I’ve used both BREEAM and LEED extensively. The difference is in the minor details and the mechanics of use, not the big picture issues of how the credits are grouped or weighted or even what the specific targets are. I am a big fan of both systems but have not used BREEAM much for a couple of years now, but LEED has a considerable edge here in terms of clarity of rules, review processes and setting precedents. I do agree with your comments about bespoke BREEAMs as well and I think this may come from the fact that the GBCs have one main focus whereas BRE will always been torn between being the independent body and making money. Both systems are great and I would hope that either BREEAM or LEED could be used to get a green building.

    I also can’t help wondering if “BREEAM vs LEED” discussions would ever lead to anything useful……

    Cheers

    Matt

  • http://enermodal.com Matt Grace

    Hi Mel, I continue to enjoy your excellent stuff, sorry I have been quiet. I’ve used both BREEAM and LEED extensively. The difference is in the minor details and the mechanics of use, not the big picture issues of how the credits are grouped or weighted or even what the specific targets are. I am a big fan of both systems but have not used BREEAM much for a couple of years now, but LEED has a considerable edge here in terms of clarity of rules, review processes and setting precedents. I do agree with your comments about bespoke BREEAMs as well and I think this may come from the fact that the GBCs have one main focus whereas BRE will always been torn between being the independent body and making money. Both systems are great and I would hope that either BREEAM or LEED could be used to get a green building.

    I also can’t help wondering if “BREEAM vs LEED” discussions would ever lead to anything useful……

    Cheers

    Matt

  • http://www.fivicons.com Menno Gijrath

    Hi ther Mel,
    what a great review and comparison. In Holland and other European countries it seems BREEAM is going to be implemented in the next couple of years. Why didn’t you use BREEAM the last couple of years??

    I am not so familiar with LEED and have been in love with BREEAM since the first time I heard about it. Still my company has some big problems to sell it to our clients. Especially because it is more a quality system than a real sustainability calculation like a Dutch program called Greencalc+ Do you know any additional computer programs which can be used to achieve the points?

    Well all the best and I will read more of your great stuff in the next couple of weeks!

    Cheers,
    Menno

  • http://www.fivicons.com Menno Gijrath

    Hi ther Mel,
    what a great review and comparison. In Holland and other European countries it seems BREEAM is going to be implemented in the next couple of years. Why didn’t you use BREEAM the last couple of years??

    I am not so familiar with LEED and have been in love with BREEAM since the first time I heard about it. Still my company has some big problems to sell it to our clients. Especially because it is more a quality system than a real sustainability calculation like a Dutch program called Greencalc+ Do you know any additional computer programs which can be used to achieve the points?

    Well all the best and I will read more of your great stuff in the next couple of weeks!

    Cheers,
    Menno

  • Olivia

    Hi all,

    I am new two both systems LEED and BREEAM and wonder if you think there is a possibility to create a new system that would integrate the best of both systems.

    What do you think?

  • Olivia

    Hi all,

    I am new two both systems LEED and BREEAM and wonder if you think there is a possibility to create a new system that would integrate the best of both systems.

    What do you think?

  • Dave

    One thing to remeber, BREEAM is not a money making machine, any profit made is gifted to the BRE Trust which is a charity for research in the built environment.

  • Dave

    One thing to remeber, BREEAM is not a money making machine, any profit made is gifted to the BRE Trust which is a charity for research in the built environment.

  • Julesbuh

    I like that you have placed the two on the Nolan Chart. Although I don’t know enough about the two accreditations in any kind of detail to comment on there exact positioning. I do know enough to relate them to where you’ve placed them.

    I’m currently in my final year of architecture and have got quite interested in the impact of politics on our profession. Which is interesting considering it isn’t really discussed during the course of our education. 
    I’ve only recently come across the Nolan chart as a means of being able to explain society and economic outlook, and I’ve discovered it can and should be used a lot more in architecture to predict how a building will be valued by society after its construction. This is very rarely appreciated in the way we are taught and quite often the way the ARB or RIBA assess our education is usually linked to their bias or position on this chart. Only schemes that lie close to the personal views of the assessor are rewarded and architects aren’t learning to design for all types of society.
    I suspect this rings true for all methods of assessment where we tend to favour the method that lies closest to our own political views.

    If we detach ourselves from these views, we’ll probably get closer to a better method of judging and using the assessment than we would by sticking to our personal political beliefs particularly when it comes to issues which are more abstract from root party politics and more in line with pure scientific fact such as environmental issues.

  • Icarus_t

    Do it for the sake of the environment, not for branding purposes (ie BREEAM or LEED).