The ultimate guide to BEAM Plus certification in Hong Kong

August 1, 2023

As the real estate sector embraces sustainability, green building certifications have become instrumental in fostering eco-friendly practices and improving the industry's environmental impact. One significant certification is BEAM Plus, Hong Kong's leading green building assessment scheme. This blog provides a comprehensive overview of BEAM Plus, from its fundamental drivers to its multitude of benefits. We'll also compare BEAM Plus to the globally recognised LEED certification and explore how utilising building analytics software can greatly improve a building's BEAM Plus rating.

What is BEAM Plus?

BEAM Plus, which stands for Building Environmental Assessment Method Plus, is a comprehensive green building assessment scheme in Hong Kong. It was developed by the BEAM Society Limited (BSL), in collaboration with the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC). It is the leading initiative to offer independent assessments of building sustainability performance in Hong Kong.

BEAM Plus covers the entire building life cycle including the planning and design stage, construction, and operation. It aims to assess, improve, certify, and label the environmental performance of buildings. By certifying the environmental performance of buildings, BEAM Plus aims to deliver a more sustainable built environment and promote wellbeing, health and comfort in the occupants of buildings.

What are the key drivers behind the BEAM Plus scheme?

The main driver behind the BEAM Plus green building rating system is the growing need for environmental sustainability and resource efficiency in the construction sector. With an increasing awareness of climate change, there’s a significant push to develop buildings that reduce carbon footprints and resource use. Thus, BEAM Plus sets out a series of best practices, above statutory requirements, that enable the building industry to create more sustainable buildings.

BEAM Plus also ensures that sustainability isn’t limited to environmental performance alone. The scheme ensures the promotion of buildings that foster the health and wellbeing of humans while caring for both the local and global environments. 

It is believed that the existence of a voluntary scheme like BEAM Plus can attract the real estate industry to do better than the minimum statutory requirements. Over time, this not only raises the bar for individual projects, but it also contributes to the overall elevation of industry standards. Through its carrot-not-stick approach, BEAM Plus plays a significant role in shaping a more sustainable future for Hong Kong's built environment.

What are the different BEAM Plus categories?

At present, there are BEAM Plus assessment tools for the following categories:

  • New Buildings: Covers the demolition, planning, design, construction and commissioning of a new building project, as well as major renovations
  • Existing Buildings: Measures the actual performance of a building, covering its management, operation and maintenance
  • Interiors: Covers the design and construction of fit-out and renovation works in non-domestic spaces. This assessment emphasises energy use, sourcing of environmentally-friendly building materials and indoor environmental quality
  • Neighbourhood: Concerns the design of spaces between buildings, and places an emphasis on socio-economic elements of a development. This assessment helps lay down a framework of urban sustainability for future developments.
  • Data Centres: Assesses the design and construction of new data centres, as well as the operations and maintenance of existing data centres
  • Existing Schools: Certifies schools’ sustainability performance, and emphasises schools’ top management commitment to continual improvement

What is included in the BEAM Plus assessment?

Under BEAM Plus, a building’s sustainability performance is assessed based on the following aspects:

  • Site Aspects: Assesses site selection, site planning and construction management, and impacts on the neighbourhood.
  • Materials Aspects: Looks into the use of materials and waste disposal during the construction phase.
  • Energy Use: Assesses the energy efficiency aspects of the building, such as HVAC, lighting, and building services.
  • Water Use: Evaluates water conservation measures and efficiency of fixtures.
  • Indoor/outdoor environmental quality: Assesses various indoor/outdoor environmental aspects which have an impact on the wellbeing of occupants, including daylight access, air quality and thermal comfort.
  • Innovations & Additions: Allows for points to be awarded for innovative technologies, design, and other aspects not covered under the other categories.
  • Community aspects: Focuses on the socio-economic impacts of a project on the neighbourhood, its local character and social identity.
  • Management: Concerns responsible management practices and provisions to encourage sustainable management of occupied areas.
  • Green building attributes: Assesses green building practices in operations.
  • Integrated design and construction management: Evaluates the communication between the project team and stakeholders.

What are the BEAM Plus ratings?

The BEAM Plus assessment results in a certification level of Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze. These ratings provide a benchmark that developers can use to demonstrate the environmental friendliness and sustainability of their buildings to clients, investors, and end-users.

How many projects are BEAM certified?

Since its launch in 2010, over 74,500,000 square metres of Gross Floor Area (GFA) of projects have been registered, and over 1,552 projects have been BEAM Plus certified.

What are the benefits of BEAM Plus? 

The BEAM Plus scheme offers commercial property owners and managers an opportunity to improve their property’s competitive position in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of the benefits the certification offers:

  • Increased revenue: Buildings with BEAM Plus certification often have higher property values due to their reduced environmental impact and superior indoor environment quality. Studies have shown that tenants in Hong Kong are willing to pay up to a 9% premium for BEAM Plus certified offices.
  • Operational savings: In addition to improving property values, certified buildings are designed to be energy and water efficient, which can lead to significant cost savings in utility bills over time.
  • Marketing advantage: Having a BEAM Plus certification can make a property more attractive to potential buyers or tenants who value sustainability. It demonstrates the owner's commitment to environmental responsibility and occupant well-being. 
  • Risk management: Green buildings often have lower risks associated with environmental and health issues. This could lead to lower insurance premiums and potential avoidance of litigation or liability issues in the future.

What is BEAM Plus V2.0?

BEAM Plus V2.0 is a new version of BEAM Plus Existing Buildings (EB), which contains revisions to the original certification, with the goal of achieving the target of the Hong Kong Government’s stated Energy Saving Plan by 2050.

BEAM Plus EB V2.0 offers a new assessment framework with two different schemes. Applicants may apply for the Comprehensive Scheme or the Selective Scheme, depending on the current circumstances of their building. The Comprehensive scheme assesses all aspects of the BEAM Plus assessment manual, whereas the Selective scheme assesses each aspect on an individual basis, with a certificate issued for each aspect. The Selective scheme has a lower threshold than the comprehensive scheme, thus enabling applicants to choose assessments that match the specific needs of their project

How do you get BEAM Plus certified?

To achieve BEAM Plus certification for a building, the owner or the project team must go through a systematic process. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Registration: The project team must register the project through the BEAM Plus Online platform
  1. Assessment: Once the assessment agreement is signed, the building will be assessed by BEAM Assessors and reviewed by the Assessment Subcommittee. BEAM Assessors will review all submitted documents, and there may be several rounds of submissions and clarifications during this process.
  1. BSL certification: The BSL issues the assessment results to the applicant, who must accept the results
  1. Certification: Once the results are accepted, the HKGBC issues the certificate package, and the project is issued a BEAM Plus rating.
  1. Post-certification: Project teams are invited to share green features via an online exhibition to the public, and are invited to join the annual BEAM Plus Certificate Presentation Ceremony

What is the difference between LEED and BEAM Plus?

In addition to BEAM Plus, the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification is also used in Hong Kong as an alternative green building standard. LEED’s global popularity makes it attractive to multinational tenants seeking to occupy environmentally friendly buildings in Hong Kong.

LEED and BEAM are both comprehensive green building certifications that promote sustainability and environmental performance in buildings, but they have some differences, primarily due to their specific evaluation criteria. 

Both systems evaluate buildings based on multiple categories, but the specific categories and weightings awarded to each category differe. For example, BEAM Plus has a specific category for “Management”, while LEED does not. Conversely, LEED has a category for “Innovation in Design”, which isn’t explicitly covered in BEAM Plus. 

The rating systems also vary in their geographical focus. Given BEAM Plus is tailored to Hong Kong, it aligns closely with local regulations and incentives. For example, the Hong Kong government provides gross floor area concessions for projects that achieve certain BEAM Plus ratings. Given LEED was developed for the US market, the certification is less aligned with local regulations outside the US. 

For more information on LEED, check out our blog, "The LEED Rating System Explained".

How can I improve my BEAM Plus rating?

Improving a building's BEAM Plus rating involves focusing on the various categories assessed under the scheme, which include Management, Materials Aspects, Energy Use, Water Use, Site Aspects, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Here are some general strategies building owners can employ:

  • Use sustainable and eco-friendly materials in construction
  • Implement energy-efficient systems and practices, such as high-efficiency HVAC systems, LED lighting, and renewable energy sources like solar panels.
  • Adopt water-saving appliances and fixtures. Consider rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling systems to reduce freshwater use.
  • Choose sites that have less environmental impact and develop sites to minimise disturbance to the local ecosystem. 
  • Implement measures to improve indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and acoustic comfort.

Where does building analytics come in? 

Building analytics software, such as CIM's PEAK Platform, can significantly contribute to enhancing a building's BEAM Plus rating in various ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Data-driven energy management: PEAK provides detailed, real-time insights into a building's energy consumption patterns. The platform identifies inefficiencies, unnecessary energy usage, and opportunities for energy conservation that can contribute to improved performance in the Energy Use category of BEAM Plus.
  • Optimised water usage: Similarly, with sensor data and analytics, PEAK can help monitor and manage water usage more efficiently. Detecting leaks or overuse in real time can help reduce water waste, which can enhance scores in the Water Use category.
  • Enhanced indoor environmental quality: PEAK monitors factors like indoor air quality, temperature, humidity, and lighting levels. With this information, building operators can make adjustments to enhance comfort and well-being for occupants, improving scores in the Indoor Environmental Quality category of BEAM Plus.

By empowering building owners and operators with actionable insights, building analytics platforms like CIM's PEAK can be invaluable tools for achieving and improving BEAM Plus certification.

Murad Dalbah
August 1, 2023