Which property sustainable certification to choose?

Sustainable certification continues to be an important consideration for your property, but which one to choose?

Neelum Choudhury, Associate Director in Sustainable Engineering sets out the various sustainable building certifications available in the market explaining how to choose the right scheme for your property.

Sustainable building assessment and certification has continued to grow in popularity across the European commercial real estate market since its introduction in the 1980s. Increasingly owners, developers and occupiers are opting for certification to gain competitive advantage by validating the choices made during design and construction, demonstrating the benefits in terms of a building’s future performance. A “green” building certification provides an insight into how a building uses resources, manages consumption during operations and impacts the occupants and surrounding environment.

The application of sustainable initiatives on new buildings, refurbishments, fit-outs and buildings in operation is now commonly undertaken in response to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) or corporate responsibility (CR) policies.

Historically new build certification was led by planning policy where local authorities stipulated a minimum rating required as a condition of planning. New build certification is now considered to be business as usual, in particular for major cities in Europe.

For refurbishment and fit-outs, some landlords require certification as part of a green lease strategy designed to retain the sustainable performance of the base building. Many occupiers are now targeting sustainable certification at a tenancy level to demonstrate commitments to staff satisfaction and wellbeing. The benefits of a sustainable fit-out, including increasing productivity, staff retention and attraction are increasingly being recognised by leading corporate occupiers.

Landlords, occupiers and investors are now increasingly measuring the sustainable performance of their assets and organisation. This allows building managers and occupiers to reduce running costs and improve environmental performance by design and through effective building management.

There are a number of sustainable design assessment methodologies available, different markets showing a preference for different rating tools. All of these methods assess sustainable performance based on the following key themes:

  • Management
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Waste
  • Transport
  • Ecology
  • Materials
  • Pollution
  • Internal environment

The sustainability tool most appropriate to the project and which target rating to aim for needs to be selected at project briefing stage; the choice is commonly based either on the organisation’s corporate strategy or by planning condition. For example, the Irish market recognises LEED as the most appropriate certification methodology as it is familiar to US occupiers. In the UK and Europe there is a more balanced approach which leans towards BREEAM. A combination of factors needs to be considered: corporate policy, flexibility towards local building standards and supply chain knowledge. By embedding the sustainability strategy from the outset, costs can be managed and progress monitored at key stages of the project, ultimately delivering successful certification at little cost. Below is a summary table of the most common sustainable certification tools:


Scheme provider Certification Covers Design & construction Fit-out/ refurbishment Operational
British Research Establishment BREEAM-

British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology

International Yes Yes Yes
US Green Building Council LEED-

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

International Yes Yes Yes
Certivea / Cerway HQE-

Hauté Qualite Environmentale

International Yes Yes Yes
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen / German Sustainable Building Council DNGB Certification International Yes Yes Yes
RICS SKA UK No Yes No
International WELL Building Institute WELL Building Standard International No Yes No
Living Future Institute Living Building Certification International Yes Yes No