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BREEAM and LEED: Which Green Building Standard is More Energy Efficient?

Energy conservation is becoming increasingly relevant in Russia – a trend now reflected in Russian law. Builders and real-estate dealers need to know the subtleties of the credit and rating systems for energy efficiency. This article presents a thorough analysis of BREEAM and LEED, the leading green building standards on a world-wide basis, as to the emphasis they put on energy efficiency. Because energy efficiency is cross cutting in both BREEAM and LEED and, therefore, is addressed in an integrated framework, each credit in both standards is reviewed for those credits that directly or indirectly impact a building’s energy efficiency. Comparative results are presented for both BREEAM and LEED. The results indicate that the emphasis put by both standards on energy efficiency is similar. LEED, with the increased emphasis on energy efficiency in version 2009 in comparison to version 2.2 seems to have closed the gap with BREEAM in this aspect.


BREEAM and LEED: Which Green Building Standard is More Energy Efficient? 

B. Kagan Ceylan, Dr.Eng., LEED AP+, BREEAM Int. Assessor, PMP, MRICS

(Original article was published in AmCham News Russia in June 2010 issue, Vol.15, No.82.

Introduction of the Federal Law No.261-FZ “On Energy Saving and Energy Efficiency Increases and Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation” is expected to profoundly affect the construction and real estate industry in Russia by introducing new requirements and incentives to how buildings are designed, constructed and operated. These profound changes in the construction and real estate industry driven by legal enforcement are expected to take place at a time when sustainable construction practices and green buildings are also pushed by market forces to penetrate the Russian construction and real estate industry following similar trends observed in the U.S., Europe and some other countries. The focus of sustainable construction practices and green buildings on energy savings and efficiency can create significant synergies between these governmental and market driven forces. However, Russia’s first green buildings  are still in the pipeline and the Russian real estate and construction community is to a great extent unfamiliar with the leading green building standards, BREEAM and LEED. Therefore, the synergies between green building standards and energy efficiency of constructed buildings are still unclear for many. What is the relative importance of energy efficiency in BREEAM and LEED green building standards in new construction projects? How is energy efficiency operationalized in the leading green building standards, such as BREEAM and LEED?

An analysis of energy efficiency in BREEAM and LEED

A first look at the weights assigned to energy efficiency sections in both BREEAM and LEED reveales an impression that LEED appears to be putting more emphasis on energy efficiency than BREEAM . However, the interactions among a building’s systems and, accordingly, the credits that effect its energy efficiency are complex in both BREEAM and LEED and credits affecting a building’s energy efficiency are distributed into different sections with different credit structures. Therefore, a more in depth analysis is necessary to assess the actual emphasis on energy efficiency in BREEAM and LEED.                  

BREEAM vs. LEED sections and relative weights of each section

In order to conduct an analysis on relative emphasis put on energy in BREEAM and LEED and try to quantify the emphasis put by these two leading green building standards, it is necessary to calculate the total credits that contribute to the building’s final energy efficiency score, both directly and indirectly. Therefore, the credits that a building would earn by improving its energy efficiency should be taken into account together with synergies to achieve this goal with credits in other credit areas. For example, a green building can achieve credits by simply demonstrating that it saves a certain percentage of energy with respect to a baseline building.  However, other practices, such as the water consumption reduction measures (e.g., using sensors to shut off hot water taps) or reduced mechanical ventilation needs (e.g., through natural ventilation) can significantly contribute to these savings because consumption of less hot water or mechanical ventilation systems supported by natural ventilation would require less energy consumption. Therefore, achivement of the energy efficiency credits, and those credits in other sections (e.g., Water Efficieny section of LEED or Health and Wellbeing section of BREEAM) that contribute to overall reduction in energy consumptions should be treated in their entirety. As a result, our analysis included both such direct credits related to energy efficiency and such credits in other areas in synergy with energy efficiency. Similarly, a number of credits can actually be competing with energy efficiency credits under both standards. For example, increased ventilation requirements for occupants’ comfort can achieve credits towards the building’s final rating, while this credit would unavoidably increase the energy consumption. For practical purposes, we ignored such credits in our analysis that may have secondary effects on the energy efficiency rating of the buildings. 


When credits across all sections of BREEAM and LEED are analyzed, the energy efficiency measures in these two leading standards appear to be clustered in the following categories:

- Energy efficient building systems that result in overall reduced energy consumption (e.g., energy efficient façade, elevators, escalators, cold storage systems, energy efficiency lighting fixtures)

- Reduction of indirect energy losses (e.g., energy reduction by savings in (hot) water consumption, prevention of heat islands in the vicinity of buildings that increase building’s ambient temperature and, subsequently, electricity consumption for cooling)

- Minimization of energy consumption for lighting and ventilation systems through natural lighting and ventilation 

- Controllability of lighting and HVAC systems by building occupants to regulate unnecessary operation of these systems, thus preventing unnecessary energy consumption

- Management practices to ensure optimal operation of engineering systems and prevent unnecessary energy losses (e.g., assignment of commissioning agents, building commissioning, post construction measurement and verification of energy consumption by building systems by building operators, submetering, prevention of leaks and losses)

- Control of energy consumption by contractor during construction (BREEAM only)

Click below for BREEAM energy efficiency credits including synergies in other credit areas 

It is interesting to note that a number of credits in BREEAM can be counted towards the building’s final rating more than once (e.g., credits awarded to energy efficient escalators and elevators, while escalators and elevators are also included in the energy calculations of the building in the credit “Design for energy performance”). This appears to be awarding the use of energy efficient systems more than once towards the building’s final rating. 

Click below for LEED energy efficiency credits including synergies in other credit areas


Our analysis revealed that unlike the first impression, energy efficiency is given similar emphasis in both LEED and BREEAM. When one takes into account that the current LEED standard (version 2009) actually assigns a greater weight for energy in comparison to previous versions (e.g., LEED version 2.2) it appears that LEED has actually closed the gap with BREEAM in terms of energy efficiency in LEED 2009.    

Click below for Credit distributions by section under LEED version 2.2. vs. LEED 2009 for new construction

It is worth noting that BREEAM energy efficiency credits shown above also include responsible contractor operations, including monitoring of energy consumption during the construction process by the contractor, by allocating two credits for them. No credits are awarded by LEED for such contractor practices towards energy saving during the construction process. However, this absence of credits for contractor’s energy efficient practices pronounces the emphasis of energy efficiency in LEED 2009 for permanent building systems and operations somewhat further in comparison to BREEAM.

We also note that while achieving a 10% energy savings with respect to a baseline building is a pre-requisite for any rating in LEED 2009 and buildings start achieving credits toward any rating only after 12% of energy saving. This prerequisite makes energy efficiency an embedded component of the building’s final LEED rating. Unlike LEED, there are no similar minimum requirements in the current version of BREEAM (Europe Commercial 2009) (except the requirement for energy submetering of main functional zones to achieve very good or higher rating) and buildings can immediately achieve 5 credits for 11% of energy savings in BREEAM.  This gives the building owners pontentially the opportunity to compensate credits lost in energy saving by others in other sections, if their building is assessed under BREEAM. 

However, these results also show that these differences are not too significant to the extent that it provides a rule of thumb in the selection of the right green building standard in terms of energy efficiency. The energy efficiency credits in both standards are still close enough, at least for the current versions of both standards.  For those developers who would like to emphasize energy efficiency in their buildings, the right green building standard would still depend on the strengths and weaknesses of their design with respect to energy efficiency requirements of both standards (e.g., feasibility of the energy efficiency credits and those in synergy areas), the project team (e.g.,  a capable contract that can fulfill BREEAM’s energy efficiency credit requirements during the construction process), the project team’s existing skills and experience (e.g., familiarity with the U.S. norms and standards in case LEED is selected) and other considerations that are important for the developer (e.g., cost of implementing different energy efficiency requirements under BREEAM and LEED).  

LEED and BREEAM credit distributions by section
BREEAM energy efficiency credits including synergies in other credit areas
LEED energy efficiency credits including synergies in other areas
Credit distributions by section under LEED v 2-2 and LEED 2009 for New Construction

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