What is BREEAM and Why is it Important for the Built Environment Industry?

What makes a sustainable building and how do you prove that? One way is to make use of the BREEAM certification. It exists to assess the long term sustainability of a building project, apply a rating and make recommendations on how those ratings can be improved.

Today, we answer questions such as “What is BREEAM?”, “What does BREEAM stand for?” “What are the BREEAM categories and ratings?” and “How to get certified with BREEAM?”

In a separate article, we will highlight the benefits BREEAM can bring to your next construction project, so make sure to read that next!

Limited Edition Brick for Corporate Interior in Amsterdam: It's 2Good2Waste!
"BREEAM-NL In-use: Excellent" Certificate for the Interior of a Housing Corporation in Amsterdam

What is BREEAM?

BREEAM stands for “Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method”. The Building Research Establishment (BRE), which founded the method in the United Kingdom in 1990, gives the following BREEAM definition:

“The leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings and communities. It sets the standard for best practice in sustainable design and has become the de facto measure used to describe a building’s environmental performance.”

This methodology ensures that buildings are compliant when it comes to sustainable construction, operation and design. You can use it to assess both in-use, renovation and refurbishment schemes as well as new developments.

The BREEAM construction certification is used in more than 70 countries, with several in Europe having gone a stage further to develop country-specific BREEAM schemes operated by National Scheme Operators (NSOs). These countries are: The Netherlands (BREEAM NL), Spain (BREEAM ES), Norway (BREEAM NOR), Sweden (BREEAM SE) and Germany (BREEAM DE).

Why Use Environmental Assessment Methods?

The world is currently undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in human history. Did you know that the equivalent of Paris is added in floor space every 5 days and that of Japan every year until 2060? [source]

Buildings are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and are therefore a major contributor to climate change [source]. A significant increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency renovations and the generation and procurement of renewable energy is required to meet emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement by 2030.

While challenging, there is still time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and follow the roadmap of the European Green Deal – if we act now.  

Environmental assessments methods, such as BREEAM, have the aim to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment through the early design and development stages, construction stage and the building’s life span.

Not only does BREEAM determine a building’s level of sustainability, but also the economic, environmental and social benefits that it has for the people linked to the life cycle of that building. We get more into that in our article about the benefits of BREEAM assessments.

What is BREEAM and Why is it Important for the Built Environment Industry? || StoneCycling
BREEAM green guide - Credit: BRE Global Limited 2020

BREEAM vs LEED – What to Use?

Where BREEAM is a building environmental assessment method of British origin and more oriented towards European legislation, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and has been specifically developed and adapted to suit the North American market, although both are globally accepted. 

The main difference between the two methods is that BREEAM uses licensed assessors to give accreditation, whereas LEED has the building’s design team collect data to be processed by the USGBC. BREEAM uses quantitative, more structured and academic standards, whereas LEED’s thresholds are based on percentages and are often seen as simpler in approach. 

Another difference that is important to mention is that LEED is administered by a nonprofit organisation whereas BREEAM is not. BREEAM has received some industry criticism because of their higher fees for assessments. 

Both methods have benefits and disadvantages and when choosing LEED vs BREEAM, you will have to consider the type of project you’re working on, the location of the project, as well as local government legislation and involved LEED / BREEAM costs. 

We are working on a series of articles that go deeper into government sustainability goals for specific destinations across the world. You can already read our article with more information about the use of BREEAM in the United Kingdom and specific UK legislation surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals.

"Together, buildings and construction are responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions in the world. Much like COVID-19, climate change is a global challenge that affects us all. It’s agreed, we must build back better." — BREEAM

BREEAM & Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs)

Below you can find an overview of BREEAM’s overarching contribution to the SDGs that are part of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development“, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015.

To read more about the specific standards by BREEAM, please visit: Building Standards, Communities Standard, Infrastructure Standard and Shelter and Settlement Sustainability Tool.

What is BREEAM and Why is it Important for the Built Environment Industry? || StoneCycling

What are the BREEAM Categories?

Starting as a 20-page document intended for new office developments, BREEAM underwent a revamp in 1998 to not only include more types of buildings, but also more areas of sustainability and ecology. Weightings were also introduced to highlight the importance of particular categories.

The 2011 edition of BREEAM is over 400 pages and can be used to assess more or less any building type in the world. 

The current BREEAM assessment is broken down into 10 categories:

  • Energy
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Innovation
  • Land Use
  • Materials
  • Management
  • Pollution
  • Transport
  • Waste
  • Water


Each of these categories is further divided into a range of assessment issues, each with its own aim, target and benchmarks.

According to the targeted rating level, there are minimum thresholds that must be achieved. For each target reached, you earn credits. The category score is then calculated according to the number of BREEAM credits achieved and its category weighting. 

Once the building has been fully assessed, the final performance rating is determined by the sum of the weighted category scores. 

Note: In addition to a certain amount of fixed criteria, BREEAM assessment also includes a number of variable criteria that are based on a government’s minimum requirements.

This means that different buildings that have been BREEAM-certified in different years cannot necessarily be compared with one another, since governments can decide to raise the legal minimum of, let’s say, predicted energy consumption, which will change the scoring in BREEAM.

What is BREEAM and Why is it Important for the Built Environment Industry? || StoneCycling

What do BREEAM Ratings Mean?

In the BREEAM rating system, BREEAM assesses the performances of buildings over a wide range of environmental issues to produce a rating of either UNCLASSIFIED (<30% – non-compliant), PASS (*, >30%), GOOD (**, >45%), VERY GOOD (***, >55%), EXCELLENT (****, >70%) or OUTSTANDING (*****, >85%).

StoneCycling’s sustainable building materials can assist in meeting institutional or legislative requirements and aid in meeting sustainable floor space requirements. Developers who use BREEAM get a higher score if they use the WasteBasedBrick® in the category “materials”, with the sub-categories “substantiated origin of materials” and “use of recycled material”. 

While BREEAM certification levels do not directly address demolition waste reduction, it does encourage the use of recycled and secondary aggregates. Construction waste management is also highly weighted, with credits being awarded according to the amount of waste generated per 100 m².

The final score and the contribution of the WasteBasedBrick® to the project depend on the total design. 

What are StoneCycling’s BREEAM Case Studies?

At StoneCycling, we’ve collaborated on four certified BREEAM projects so far:


  1. CROSSOVER in Amsterdam, The Netherlands [Client: AM, Design: Team V, Contractor: BAM]The sustainability ambitions of this project have been rigidly adhered to during the process. The label applies not only to the 10,000 m² of flexible office space but to the entire CROSSOVER building, making it the first multifunctional building in the Netherlands with a BREEAM Outstanding label.
  2. LC Packaging in Waddinxveen, The Netherlands[Client: LC Packaging, Design: Quadrant4, Contractor: De Vries & Verburg]LC Packaging clearly expressed its wish for a sustainable, state-of-the-art headquarters and warehouse with a BREEAM Outstanding buildings certificate. This label was obtained at the completion of the project in 2020.
  3. Technique in London, United Kingdom[Client: General Projects, Design: Buckley Gray Yeoman, Contractor: Graham]Technique is a landmark new office space, conjured and crafted from two historic buildings in the heart of one of London’s most creative neighbourhoods. The building is set to achieve the label BREEAM Excellent rating, a rare achievement for a refurbished building. 
  4. 2Good2Waste HQ Interior in Amsterdam, The Netherlands[Client: Housing Corporation, Design: Studioninedots, Contractor: Gielissen Interiors]For the new head office and canteen of a Dutch housing corporation with a rich history in the heart of Amsterdam, we’ve incorporated 2Good2Waste brick slips in various ways in the furniture. The 5000 m² office space, restaurant, Lab and garden received a “BREEAM-NL In-use: Excellent” certificate.
BREEAM Outstanding Interior at LC Packaging HQ in The Netherlands || StoneCycling
BREEAM Outstanding at LC Packaging in The Netherlands

Certification BREEAM – What is the Process?

To get certified with BREEAM, you have to go through the following steps:

  • Decide which BREEAM standard applies to your development*
  • Appoint a licensed BREEAM Assessor 
  • Register your project for assessment through the Assessor
  • Carry out a pre-assessment with the Assessor
  • Collect and pass on all necessary information to the Assessor during the project and the assessment progresses
  • The BREEAM expert Assessor will review all information and submits it to the certification body 
  • Receive your listed BREEAM certificate 



*As mentioned earlier, you can get BREEAM certifications for different types of projects, for example: 

  • BREEAM Communities – Integrating sustainable design into the master planning of new communities or regeneration projects [more info]
  • CEEQUAL and BREEAM Infrastructure – CEEQUAL is the evidence-based sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme for civil engineering, infrastructure, landscaping and public realm projects [more info]
  • BREEAM In Use – Assessing the operational performance of all existing non-domestic building types against the nine categories mentioned previously in this article. [read more]
  • BREEAM Refurbishment and Fit Out (RFO) – Assessing the performance of a building once improvements have been made to the external envelope, structure, core services, local services or interior design. [read more]
  • BREEAM New Construction – Assessing the design, construction, intended use and future-proofing of new building developments, including the local, natural or manmade environment surrounding the building. [read more]

"BREEAM is a powerful enabler for a circular economy in the construction and real estate sectors. Circular economy principles relating to sustainable physical resource use are rewarded through a range of credits across the family of schemes offered by BREEAM." — BREEAM

What are BREEAM Benefits?

BREEAM certification is becoming increasingly important for a number of reasons. From more and more requirements from local authorities to several social, community, health and economic benefits, sustainability measures in buildings have become an integral part of the modern investor’s checklist and decision-making process.

Of course, BREEAM has also helped to place greater focus on having development strategies centred around minimising construction waste, finding ways to reduce CO2 emissions and improving the environment for wildlife in the surrounding area.

To read more in-depth about the value of a BREEAM certification in construction, please head over to our article on the benefits of BREEAM.

At StoneCycling, we’re especially interested in the positive effect a BREEAM certification can have on the use of materials on construction sites and the contribution to the circular economy.

We believe that BREEAM can help reduce the negative effects of construction and development on the environment and we would like to encourage you to get in touch with us to discuss the possibilities for your upcoming project.