What does a BREEAM Assessment Criteria Include? A Basic Guide

Explore how BREEAM assessment criteria influence building design. Discover the role of sustainability and innovation in architecture.

BREEAM, or the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, sets the standard for best practices in building sustainability. It offers a comprehensive framework that assesses the environmental impact and sustainability performance of buildings, influencing architects, planners, and developers worldwide.

Understanding the BREEAM assessment criteria is crucial for anyone involved in the 21st century construction industry. These criteria are not just benchmarks for sustainability; they are tools that shape modern building practices, steering projects towards greater environmental responsibility. 

The criteria cover a broad range of aspects, from energy efficiency and water use to health and well-being, materials, waste, and pollution, ensuring that buildings are evaluated on a holistic basis.

In a world increasingly focused on reducing carbon footprints and promoting environmental stewardship, the role of BREEAM cannot be understated. It’s not just about meeting standards but about leading the charge towards a more sustainable future. By adhering to BREEAM’s rigorous criteria, buildings don’t just become structures; they become part of a global solution to environmental challenges.

This article aims to provide a detailed insight into the BREEAM assessment criteria, underscoring their significance in shaping sustainable building practices. Whether you are an architect, a developer, or a sustainability enthusiast, understanding these criteria is key to contributing to the creation of buildings that are not only efficient and functional but also environmentally sound and future-proof.

Core Principles of BREEAM Assessment Criteria

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) represents a foundational shift in building sustainability, grounded in a set of core principles that guide its assessment criteria. Understanding these principles is crucial to grasping how BREEAM shapes the construction and operation of buildings.

Sustainability Across Various Domain

BREEAM’s philosophy hinges on a holistic approach to sustainability. It assesses buildings across several domains, including energy, water use, health and well-being, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology, and management processes. This comprehensive approach ensures that all aspects of a building’s environmental impact are considered, promoting a balanced and sustainable outcome.

Encouraging a Sustainable Lifecycle

BREEAM focuses on the entire lifecycle of a building, from design and construction to operation and eventual demolition. This lifecycle assessment encourages sustainable choices at every stage, reducing the overall environmental impact of the building.

Innovation in Sustainability

Innovation is at the heart of BREEAM. The criteria are designed not only to assess current best practices but also to encourage the development of new and innovative solutions to sustainability challenges. This principle fosters a forward-thinking approach in the construction industry.

Adaptability and Flexibility

The BREEAM criteria are adaptable to various types of buildings and locations, recognizing the diverse challenges and opportunities in building projects around the world. This flexibility allows BREEAM to be effectively applied across different contexts and geographies.

Evidence-Based Approach

BREEAM assessments are grounded in an evidence-based approach. Assessors collect and analyze data related to various sustainability factors, ensuring that the assessment is accurate and reflective of the building’s real-world performance.

Stakeholder Involvement

BREEAM encourages the involvement of all stakeholders in the assessment process. This includes architects, builders, developers, and occupants, ensuring that sustainability is a collaborative effort.

Continuous Improvement

BREEAM is committed to continuous improvement. The criteria are regularly reviewed and updated in response to new research, technological advancements, and evolving best practices in sustainable building.

These principles guide the BREEAM assessment process in several ways:

  • Holistic Evaluation: Assessors consider a wide range of sustainability factors, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of the building’s environmental performance.
  • Benchmarking and Scoring: Buildings are benchmarked against established standards, and scores are awarded based on how well they meet these criteria.
  • Guidance for Improvement: The assessment provides guidance on how to improve the building’s sustainability performance, highlighting areas where it excels and where improvements can be made.
  • Recognition of Excellence: Buildings that meet or exceed BREEAM criteria are recognised for their sustainability efforts, setting a benchmark for others in the industry.

A More Detailed Breakdown of Assessment Criteria

The BREEAM assessment criteria encompass multiple categories, each targeting specific aspects of sustainability in building design and operation. Here’s a detailed breakdown of these categories:

Energy: This category assesses the building’s energy use, including energy efficiency, carbon emissions, and energy monitoring. Criteria focus on reducing energy consumption, optimising energy performance, and incorporating renewable energy sources.

Health and Wellbeing: This section evaluates factors that impact occupant health and wellbeing, such as indoor air quality, lighting, thermal comfort, and acoustics. The emphasis is on creating a healthy and comfortable living or working environment.

Materials: This category examines the sustainability of building materials, considering their life cycle impacts from extraction and processing to disposal. Criteria include sustainable sourcing, durability, and the use of environmentally friendly materials.

Waste: Waste management during construction and operation is a key focus here. The criteria encourage minimising waste production, promoting recycling, and responsible waste disposal practices.

Water: Assessing water efficiency and conservation strategies, this category looks at how water is used and managed in the building, with criteria for reducing consumption and improving water management systems.

Pollution: This aspect evaluates the building’s impact on pollution, covering areas like NOx emissions, ozone-depleting substances, and noise pollution. The aim is to minimise the environmental impact of pollutants from the building.

Land Use and Ecology: This section considers the building’s impact on its site’s ecology and biodiversity. Criteria include protecting existing ecological features, enhancing biodiversity, and promoting sustainable land use.

Transport: Here, the focus is on reducing the building’s transport-related environmental impacts. Criteria include encouraging alternative modes of transport, reducing parking space, and promoting electric vehicle use.

Management: This category assesses the building’s management policies and procedures, focusing on sustainability performance during construction and operation. It includes criteria for commissioning, stakeholder participation, and building maintenance.

Innovation: Recognising innovative practices and features that go beyond standard practices, this category awards extra credits for novel approaches to sustainability.

Each category has specific benchmarks and criteria that buildings must meet to achieve a BREEAM rating. The comprehensive nature of these criteria ensures that buildings assessed under BREEAM adhere to high standards of sustainability and environmental performance.

The Assessment Process

As the BREEAM assessment process is a structured and comprehensive approach to evaluating the sustainability of a building project, it involves a number of steps:

  • Pre-Assessment: This initial stage involves understanding the project’s scope and sustainability goals. The assessor, in collaboration with the design team, reviews project plans and outlines potential areas for sustainability improvements.
  • Design Stage Assessment: At this stage, detailed plans and specifications are evaluated. The assessor works closely with designers and builders to ensure that proposed designs align with BREEAM criteria. Recommendations for enhancements may be made.
  • Construction Stage Assessment: During construction, the assessor monitors progress to ensure adherence to the sustainability plans outlined in the design stage. This phase requires close cooperation between the assessor and the construction team.
  • Post-Construction Stage Assessment: After construction, a final assessment is conducted to verify that the completed building meets the agreed-upon sustainability criteria. This involves a thorough site inspection and review of project documentation.
  • Certification: Upon successful completion of the assessment, the building is awarded a BREEAM rating based on its performance across the various sustainability categories.

The roles of various stakeholders in this process are crucial:

  • Assessors: They guide the entire process, from pre-assessment to certification, ensuring that all BREEAM criteria are met. They provide expertise in sustainability and help identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Designers: They are responsible for incorporating sustainability features into the building’s design, guided by the assessor’s recommendations and BREEAM criteria.
  • Builders: Their role is to implement sustainable design in the construction process, adhering to the sustainability plans and specifications.

This collaborative effort ensures that the building not only meets but exceeds sustainability standards, leading to a BREEAM certification that reflects a commitment to environmental excellence.

Challenges and Solutions in Meeting BREEAM Criteria

Meeting BREEAM criteria can present several challenges, but with strategic planning and informed decision-making, these can be effectively addressed.

Complexity and Scope of Criteria: BREEAM’s comprehensive nature can be overwhelming.
Solution: Break down the process into manageable parts, focusing on one category at a time. Engage a qualified BREEAM assessor early in the project to guide the team through each criterion.

Balancing Sustainability and Budget: Implementing sustainable solutions often incurs additional costs.
Solution: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to understand the long-term savings from sustainability features. Explore grants and incentives for sustainable building practices.

Stakeholder Engagement: Getting all stakeholders on board with BREEAM objectives can be challenging.
Solution: Organise workshops and meetings to educate stakeholders about the benefits of BREEAM certification, ensuring buy-in from all parties involved.

Integrating Sustainable Design: Incorporating sustainability into the design from the outset can be complex.
Solution: Collaborate closely with architects and designers who have experience in sustainable building design, ensuring sustainability is integrated from the beginning.

Technological Challenges: Keeping up with the latest sustainable technologies can be daunting.
Solution: Stay informed about new technologies and consider their applicability to your project. Employ consultants if necessary for expert advice.

Adherence to Timelines: Meeting BREEAM criteria within project timelines can be demanding.
Solution: Develop a realistic timeline that accommodates the additional planning and implementation time required for BREEAM compliance.

Documentation and Evidence: The documentation required for BREEAM certification can be extensive.
Solution: Establish a robust process for collecting and managing documentation right from the project’s inception.

Site-Specific Constraints: Each site has unique challenges that can impact BREEAM compliance.
Solution: Conduct thorough site analyses early in the project to identify and address any site-specific constraints.

By addressing these challenges with clear strategies and solutions, achieving BREEAM criteria becomes a more streamlined and attainable goal for any building project, leading to the successful certification of sustainable buildings.

The Impact of BREEAM Assessment on Building Design

The BREEAM assessment was specifically created to significantly influence the architectural and engineering decisions in the building design process. It pushes for innovative solutions and sustainable practices, reshaping the way buildings are conceptualised, designed, and constructed.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

BREEAM criteria emphasise energy efficiency, leading architects and engineers to prioritise energy-saving features like advanced insulation, energy-efficient lighting, and HVAC systems. Moreover, the integration of renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines becomes a key design consideration.

Sustainable Materials and Resources

The choice of materials is heavily influenced by BREEAM’s focus on sustainability. This leads to the selection of materials that are sustainably sourced, have low environmental impact, and offer high durability. The design process also considers the efficient use of resources, promoting recycling, and minimising waste.

Water Management

BREEAM’s criteria on water efficiency drive the incorporation of water-saving technologies. This includes rainwater harvesting systems, water-efficient appliances, and fixtures, as well as sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) in building designs.

Health and Wellbeing

The assessment criteria put a strong emphasis on indoor environmental quality, including air quality, natural lighting, and thermal comfort. This influences design decisions like window placement, ventilation systems, and the use of non-toxic materials.

Innovation in Design

Meeting BREEAM criteria often requires innovative approaches, especially in complex projects. This could involve novel architectural designs, cutting-edge engineering solutions, or the use of new materials and technologies.

Land Use and Ecology

The BREEAM Assessment Criteria encourages designs that minimise the impact on the site’s ecology. This leads to considerations such as preserving existing natural features, enhancing biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping in the design process.


The criteria encourage designs that reduce transportation-related environmental impacts. This may include providing facilities for cyclists, electric vehicle charging points, and integrating the building within public transport networks.

Pollution Reduction

BREEAM criteria encourage the reduction of pollution, including noise, light, and air pollution. This influences the choice of building location, the design of external spaces, and the selection of construction methods.

Management and Aftercare

BREEAM also assesses the management of the building post-construction. This influences designs to include features that make ongoing management and maintenance more sustainable.

Embracing a Sustainable Future with BREEAM

As we wrap up our exploration into the world of BREEAM and its profound impact on building design, it’s clear that embracing the BREEAM assessment criteria is more than just regulatory compliance – it’s a step towards a sustainable future. BREEAM’s comprehensive approach is reshaping how we think about buildings, from their energy efficiency to their ecological impact.

If you’re ready to embark on this journey of sustainability, our team is here to guide you through every step of the BREEAM assessment process. Reach out to us for expert advice on sustainable building practices and let’s work together to create spaces that are not only environmentally responsible but also innovative and forward-looking. Join us in shaping a greener, more sustainable world.

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Post written by: Sam Guest

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