Despite significant investment in green initiatives and technology, the buildings and construction sector is still falling short of sustainable practices.
The built environment accounts for 36% of the world’s energy consumption and nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions. And according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction (Buildings-GSR), “the sector is not on track to decarbonise by 2050”.
As the climate crisis intensifies, the ability of buildings and construction to contribute to the achievement of global net zero targets is essential. It’s one of the most urgent issues facing commercial real estate today.
One way for developers and designers to raise their game, validate their work, and improve the performance of buildings is through accreditation. Covering a range of topics, accreditation enables companies to make positive steps towards a sustainable built environment, while demonstrating their commitments to tenants and investors.
The increase in demand for sustainable real estate has extended to improving the health and wellbeing of the tenants within these properties. According to a study conducted by leading wellbeing certification WELL, WELL Certified buildings have been shown to improve occupants’ satisfaction at work by nearly 30% and improve their mental health by 10%. These wellbeing-focused accreditations have become increasingly popular as landlords look for ways to add value to their tenants and pass those benefits onto individuals when they are in their buildings.
Accreditation schemes provide frameworks, rating systems, benchmarks and standards to support the delivery of sustainable buildings and interiors. Their broad aim is to address concerns over environmental degradation and resource depletion, targeting several key contributors linked to building design and development. While the majority are voluntary, many authorities incorporate key schemes into their planning criteria.
Once they’ve registered with the relevant accreditation body or owner, companies may have to take part in various planning meetings, reviews and compliance testing. They may have to develop sustainability briefs, brainstorm design and engineering solutions, and conduct lifecycle impact analyses of buildings and interiors. Key individuals may need to undergo extensive training and assessment, culminating in various stages of accreditation or certification.
The accreditation process and focus areas vary from scheme to scheme. Some programmes are concerned with energy efficiency, while others might address recycled content use. Others, meanwhile, may focus on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) or building provisions for health, safety and wellbeing. The following are some of the leading schemes supporting the sector-wide shift to sustainable design in the built environment and improving health and wellbeing within commercial buildings.
BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment Method) is a leading “science-based suite of validation and certification systems” designed to measure the sustainability and environmental performance of new and existing buildings. The world’s first green building rating system, BREEAM was launched in the UK in 1990 by the British Research Establishment (BRE). Through third-party certified standards, it helps to improve asset performance from design and construction through to use and refurbishment.
BREEAM provides solutions in the following sustainability areas: net zero carbon; whole life performance; health & social impact; circularity & resilience; biodiversity; and disclosures & reporting. It sets recognised performance measures against specific categories and benchmark criteria – e.g. energy, management, materials, transport, water, waste – to deliver an overall score. This score is then translated into a BREEAM rating, with certification ranging from Pass, Good and Very Good to Excellent and Outstanding.
Read more about the benefits of achieving a BREEAM accreditation in our guide.
Grant Thornton located in BREEAM accredited building 103 Colmore Row in Birmingham
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the US Green Buildings Council, is one of the most widely used and recognised sustainable building rating schemes. As a holistic system, LEED focuses on all critical elements within a building and how they work together, rather than in isolation. This accreditation aims to create better buildings that reduce contribution to climate change; enhance individual human health; protect and restore water resources; protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services; promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles; and enhance community quality of life.
LEED operates a point system based on nine key classification categories across a range of building types. Points are allocated per building feature, delivering a total score which determines the final LEED rating: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.
The SKA rating tool was launched in 2009 by the UK’s Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). SKA provides an environmental assessment method, benchmark and standard for non-domestic fit outs, using a set of sustainability criteria known as good practice measures (GPMs).
Focusing solely on fit outs, rather than the surrounding building, SKA helps designers, landlords and tenants to achieve more sustainable office spaces. It uses a three-stage assessment process focusing on design/planning, delivery/construction, and post-occupancy. The Bronze, Silver and Gold rating system is a universal system that enables prospective occupiers to benchmark environmental performance against other office interiors.
Read more about how SKA can benefit commercial fit outs in our SKA Guide.
DP World received a SKA Gold Rating for their office refurbishment due to it’s low environmental impact
NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System) is a green building certification for the Australian market. Providing simple, reliable and comparable sustainability measurement, NABERS applies to a range of assets, including hotels, shopping centres, apartments, offices and more. It provides a One-to-Six Star rating scheme for building efficiency, focusing on energy, water, waste and indoor environment, helping owners to assess and compare building asset performance.
The WELL Building Standard was founded in 2014 by the US-based International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Helping developers and designers to demonstrate their commitment to “people-first places”, the WELL Building Standard aims to harness the built environment – building interiors in particular – as a vehicle to support human health, wellbeing and quality of life.
Focusing on categories such as air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, the Standard can be applied to commercial and institutional buildings across diverse construction, renovation and redevelopment programmes. Projects can earn points linked to policy, design and operations, leading to four levels of WELL certification: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Fitwel was created in the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US General Services Administration. A certification system “committed to building health for all”, Fitwel helps companies respond to increasing demand for spaces that support healthier lifestyles.
Through strategies for developing and maintaining optimum health-promoting environments, Fitwel enables companies to boost their ESG scores and associated ratings. Its certification scheme covers design, new construction, existing building and built projects, and uses a 12-16 week review process to generate a One, Two or Three-Star rating, which is valid for three years.
Oktra’s London office received a two-star Fitwel certification
Accreditation enables companies to meet the increasing demand for sustainable buildings and interiors. According to the 2022 RICS Sustainability Report, 65% of UK contributors noted that occupier demand for green buildings had risen in the past year; 45% reported a modest increase in investor appetite for such assets, and 21% said they had seen a significant increase.
Fitwel also reports that 49% of building owners are willing to pay more for buildings that have a positive impact on health, while BREEAM asserts that demand for built environment sustainability assessments is rising 20% year on year.
In this way, sustainable buildings represent the future of urban design and development. Tenants, investors, landlords and other key stakeholders are increasingly focused on ESG criteria, and those companies that can demonstrate commitment to creating greener spaces look set to thrive.
Through accreditation, companies can evidence their engagement with sustainability and demonstrate progress in key areas – such as improved efficiencies, lower carbon emissions, and the creation of places that promote human health and wellbeing. All of which help to build trust, achieve higher occupancy rates, maximise real estate value, and deliver long-term commercial success.
The Guide to Green Building Rating Schemes will help you determine the certification that best suits your business objectives.Download Now