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Global battle of building accreditation schemes – LEED versus BREEAM

by Mel Starrs on June 30, 2010

in Green Building Rating

The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted a new page on the blog – global building accreditation schemes. It is very much a work in progress and I’ve missed any obvious schemes, please let me know.

As new announcements are made, I add them into the google spreadsheet which sits behind the page. For example, yesterday I added Italy LEED to the list – this is the first European country to commit to LEED – BREEAM up until now had penetrated the market to a much greater extent. The news is different elsewhere in the world – LEED dominates in most other regions.

Many articles debate which scheme will ‘win’ the battle. For my money, it’s too early to call, both systems have different business models which may suit different local conditions and economic realities. Sustainability, in my opinion, is context specific and subjective. This is another problem with simplifying into codes.
Humans by our very nature like to simplify things and make things easier for our brains – we use heuristics (to reduce the effort on our brain). LEED and BREEAM are no more than useful shorthand for today’s most widely accepted definitions of what a sustainable building looks like.

In the future voluntary green accreditation schemes may be overtaken by local building codes (Building Regs in the UK). There is a great little paper from USGBC here (pdf, 8 pgs) which outlines the history of building codes:

The idea of a building code is more than 3,000 years old. Even the earliest civilizations recognized that predictable and consistent minimum standards had to apply to construction materials and practice in order to provide practical and adequate protection of human life, safety and the welfare of the community at large. The Code of Hammurabi, named for the founder of the Babylonian Empire, outlined the responsibilities of builders for the safe construction of buildings and laid out harsh punishment for those who failed to comply.
Around 64 A.D. the purview of the codes was widened to include for the first time, fire safety. Though the wealthy Roman Empire kept close rein on its public buildings, it was the burning of Rome—largely due to poorly made, flammable and otherwise unprotected buildings—that gave the impetus for a new generation of safer buildings and neighborhoods in Nero’s subsequent master plan.
But as with much of the rest of the body of ancient knowledge, these Roman codes did not survive the Dark Ages. It took the great fire of London in 1666 to give rise to another early set of fire safety regulations. This same harsh reality was subsequently faced in cities across the globe: fire in cities and in buildings is a threat to human life and public safety, thus public officials around the world were faced with the clear and present obligation to safeguard against its devastating effects.

Worth reading the whole paper – in my opinion there will always be a space for a voluntary scheme which rewards those who do more than the statutory minimum. Whether this remains LEED or indeed BREEAM is a moot point to me. What I am in favour of is both systems keeping ahead of the curve (again, in my opinion, this is where Code for Sustainable Homes has in effect fallen down). USGBC seem to concur:

For the large number of jurisdictions embarking on sustainability planning, and also for those who are well on their way, a green building code and an above-code green building rating system provide the best-case scenario of push-and-pull market-driving tools. Without stronger, more comprehensive codes, the majority of buildings may remain untouched by the positive benefits that building green provides. But without above-code rating systems, these codes may be seen as the best we can possibly do, rather than the most we can reasonably expect. Any jurisdiction engaged in sustainability planning should be considering the universe of available green building policy options, and pressing hard to further the policy innovations that have become a hallmark of the green building movement.

Do you agree?