BREEAM should make way for the US green standard, argues the Property Merchant Group chief executive

The recent news that the BRE is planning to extend its BREEAM environmental certification system into Europe is potentially positive news.

The last thing the international property and construction industries need is a plethora of diverse or even contradictory national environmental standards and regulations.

However, even if the BRE is successful in achieving some take-up of its system amongst mainland European countries, this would still leave the prospect of two very different certification processes - the UK’s BREEAM and the US’s LEED - operating in parallel, and to some degree in competition, on either side of the pond.

Given the number of US-owned companies opening operations in Europe, and vice versa, the most constructive thing that US and UK environmental authorities could do would be to collaborate to encourage the earliest possible development of a common system - one which is familiar to, understood and trusted, by companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

A merged standard could possibly operate under the umbrella of the respective Green Business Councils of the US and UK whilst, if political imperatives dictated, the actual compliance and performance parameters could be set at different levels by each country to give them national ‘sovereignty’ over their environmental polices. But at least the system’s architecture and process would still be recognisably the same.

LEED with a shot of BREEAM, please

Although any new common system should of course incorporate and integrate the best of both LEED and BREEAM, the international consensus seems to be, firmly, that the LEED system provides the simpler and more broadly-based basic model for one; indeed, it is at the base of most green rating systems outside the UK.

We believe by also making use of LEED, UK businesses could help to foster an internationally-recognised language and standard for environmental impact assessment for building and construction.

This is why at the Property Merchant Group, in addition to BREEAM ratings and EPCs, we shall be undertaking and providing voluntary LEED assessments for all our forthcoming central London office developments.

LEED is enjoying a rapid uptake by the US construction and property sectors and has already notched up demonstrable, measurable success in improving the environmental performance of many US buildings.

Moreover LEED’s sponsor, the US Green Building Council, has shown itself to be particularly responsive to constructive criticism, recently tightening their system’s ratings criteria over concerns that it was not stringent enough on certain energy use parameters

"LEED provides the simpler and more broadly-based basic model for one; indeed, it is at the base of most green rating systems outside the UK ... "

Molly Wynnowen, associate director at environmental consultancy, Kimberly Burge, explains why she thinks LEED is much more comprehensive and rigorous than BREEAM...

It includes exacting standards for materials affecting indoor air quality, including paints and sealants, adhesives, carpets and agrifibre products.

It requires higher achievement levels for energy consumption, air ventilation and water usage.

LEED seems to take a very tough approach to credits. For example, if any of the carpets (no matter how small the percentage of the overall carpet cover) used in the building do not meet the requisite chemical standards, the credit is not awarded. If any paint used does not meet the VOC level, the credit for paint and coatings is not given.

Unlike BREEAM, there is no weighting with current LEED credits (this is predicted to change in version Three, presently undergoing consultation). LEED operates an incredibly user- friendly system of interactive Adobe templates, which allows the party responsible for the credit’s information to enter information directly onto the system.

It should be noted that BREEAM Office 2008 is predicted to more closely resemble LEED.