BREEAM vs. LEED: Understanding key differences in green building certifications

May 31, 2023

As a commercial property owner, it is important to understand the growing importance of sustainable practices and environmental responsibility in the built environment. With the rise of green building certifications, two prominent systems stand out: BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) in the UK and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in the US.

It is important to note that BREEAM and LEED are both rating frameworks developed by private organizations and are not government regulations like commercial EPC ratings and ESOS audits in the UK, or New York Local Law 87 in the US.

In this article, we delve into the key differences between these certifications, providing you with valuable insights to make informed decisions for your commercial properties and learn how to make your commercial building more efficient.

What is BREEAM?
What is LEED?

What are the key differences between them?

How does their criteria differ?

Which certificate is more popular?

Which is better?

Ready to get Certified

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What is BREEAM?

BREEAM is a renowned environmental assessment system for buildings. Developed in the UK by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), BREEAM evaluates the sustainability performance of new and existing buildings across categories such as energy, water, health, pollution, and more. It operates on a points system, with certification levels ranging from Pass to Outstanding. 

BREEAM is primarily used in the UK and Europe, and has become a benchmark for sustainable building practices in these regions. BREEAM also has regional adaptations to suit different countries and regions worldwide.

Related: Check out our blogs on BREEAM certification and how the BREEAM rating system works for more information.

What is LEED?

LEED is a globally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It provides a framework for assessing and recognizing the sustainability performance of buildings across categories such as sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. 

LEED certification is most widely used in the United States, where it originated, but has gained significant popularity and adoption worldwide, including in regions such as Europe, Canada, and Asia.

Related: For more information, check out our blogs on LEED certification and how the LEED rating system works. 

What are the key differences between them?

Geographic scope:

BREEAM originated as a British certificate, meaning it is adapted to the British and European construction law and British best practices. On the other hand, LEED is designed specifically for buildings in the United States, and takes its cues from the American ASHRAE standards. 

Certification process:

BREEAM uses licensed assessors who examine the building’s evidence against the credit criteria and report it to BRE to assess. LEED, on the other hand, does not use licensed assessors. To achieve LEED certification, applicants must gather the relevant information and submit the evidence to the USGBC, who examines it and issues the certificate if it meets their demands.

Scoring systems:

BREEAM uses a weighted scoring system, where different sustainability issues carry different weights. LEED uses a point-based system, where projects must achieve a minimum number of points for certification.

Certification levels:

The level of BREEAM certification that a project receives is reflected in its ranking on a scale ranging from Pass to Outstanding:

  1. Outstanding: ≥ 85%
  2. Excellent: ≥ 70%
  3. Very Good: ≥ 55%
  4. Good: ≥ 45%
  5. Pass: < 30%

LEED, on the other hand, ranks its projects according to points along a spectrum, with Platinum representing the highest standard of sustainability:

  1. LEED Platinum: 80+ points
  2. LEED Gold: 60 to 79 points
  3. LEED Silver: 50 to 59 points
  4. LEED Certified: 40 to 49 points

How does their criteria differ?

The criteria in BREEAM and LEED certifications differ in their specific focus areas and categories. Here's an overview of the key differences:

BREEAM assesses buildings across ten categories, including:

  • Energy emissions
  • Water 
  • Health and well-being
  • Pollution
  • Land use and ecology 
  • Transport
  • Materials
  • Waste
  • Management
  • Innovation

LEED evaluates buildings across eight categories, including:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Innovation in design 
  • Regional priority
  • Localisation and transport

Which certification is more popular?

While BREEAM has a strong foothold in the UK and Europe, LEED has garnered significant popularity in the US and has made notable strides in gaining recognition globally. That being said, BREEAM is more popular overall in terms of number of buildings certified. More than 600,000 buildings have been issued BREEAM certificates in 93 countries worldwide, whereas there are approximately 100,000 LEED certified buildings worldwide, spanning 180 countries.

Which is better?

Both BREEAM and LEED offer valuable frameworks for commercial property owners seeking to enhance sustainability and environmental performance. There is no obvious answer as to which certification is ‘better’, given their respective differences and suitability to certain projects. Both systems have their merits and are highly respected environmental certifications that can demonstrate the sustainability of your properties.

As a commercial property owner, it is simply a matter of whether LEED or BREEAM makes the most sense for your building vision, company goals and local market. If you’re in the UK or Europe, BREEAM may be the natural choice as it has been developed to align with existing laws and regulations. If you’re in the US, LEED might be more appropriate for similar reasons. Another important consideration is what kind of process you’re looking for. LEED places a greater burden on the applicant to provide documentation and evidence, whereas with BREEAM most of the heavy-lifting is handled by the licensed assessor. 

Remember, regardless of the chosen certification, the ultimate goal remains the same: to foster a more sustainable and resilient future for commercial properties.

Ready to get certified?

Building analytics software, such as CIM’s PEAK Platform,  can help improve a building's BREEAM or LEED rating by providing insights into its environmental performance and identifying areas for improvement. Here are some ways building analytics can be used to improve BREEAM or LEED ratings:

  • Energy efficiency: By providing real-time data on energy consumption, PEAK can help building owners identify opportunities for energy savings, such as identification of untuned equipment, highlighting energy wastage or pinpointing areas of the building that are driving energy drift. This data can also be used to optimize building systems, such as HVAC, lighting and controls, to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency.
  • Indoor air quality: PEAK provides real-time data on indoor air and environment quality, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels, and identifies areas where quality can be improved.  For example, it can detect if certain areas of the building have poor ventilation, or if the temperature or humidity is too high or low, and provide actionable insights to address these issues. This information can be used to optimize ventilation systems and maintain healthy indoor air quality, leading to a higher rating in both certifications. 
  • Water Management: PEAK can monitor water consumption, detect leaks, and identify opportunities for water conservation. It provides real-time data and analytics that help building owners optimize water usage, implement efficient fixtures, and identify water-saving measures, contributing to improved water management practices and a higher LEED or BREEAM rating. 

We’re here to help!

Request a callback, and discuss with our team of experts how PEAK can help you achieve a higher energy savings as part of your journey to achieving sustainable operations.

Cillian Casey
May 31, 2023