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Recognition & Responsibility: An Introduction to Green Building Rating Systems

In the dynamic world of design and construction, where innovation meets responsibility, the concept of sustainability has taken center stage. As the clamor for environmentally conscious and occupant-friendly spaces grows, certification programs have emerged as beacons of validation, ushering in a new era of responsible design. In this blog post, we delve into the significance of three prominent certification programs—LEED, BREEAM, and WELL—and explore their differences, their strengths, and the impact they can have on project publicity, validation, and consumer trust.

Certification Programs: A Brief Overview

Before we dive into their impact, let's understand what these certification programs are all about:

  1. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): Spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED sets the standard for sustainable building design and construction. It evaluates a project's environmental performance across various criteria, including energy efficiency, water conservation, and materials selection.

  2. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method): Originating from the UK, BREEAM is a holistic assessment method that considers a building's entire life cycle. It evaluates sustainability across categories such as energy, land use, and social aspects.

  3. WELL Building Standard: Focused on occupant well-being, the WELL Building Standard, developed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), goes beyond traditional sustainability. It emphasizes factors like air quality, water quality, and fitness to create spaces that support health.





Assess environmental performance and sustainability

Evaluate sustainable building practices

Focus on occupant health and well-being


U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

Building Research Establishment (BRE)

International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)


Comprehensive, covering energy, water, materials, etc

Holistic, considers a building's entire life cycle

Focus on factors affecting occupant health and wellness

Main Focus Areas

Energy efficiency, water conservation, materials, etc

Environmental impact, social aspects, economic considerations

Air quality, water quality, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort

Global Recognition

Projects in over 175 countries

Projects in more than 80 countries

Projects in more than 60 countries

Life Cycle Consideration

Limited emphasis on building life cycle

Considers the entire life cycle, from planning to operation

Emphasizes occupant well-being throughout the life cycle

Occupant Health Focus

Moderate emphasis on indoor environmental quality

Emphasis on occupant health and well-being, but not the primary focus

Strong focus on creating environments that support health

Rigor of Evaluation

Rigorous evaluation, with a comprehensive point-based system

Rigorous evaluation, with detailed scoring in various categories

Rigorous evaluation, with specific performance metrics

Scientific Involvement

Engages with scientific research but is more industry-oriented

Collaborates with research institutions, integrating scientific findings

Actively involves scientific experts in shaping standards

Main Industries

Commercial real estate, education, healthcare, government

Commercial real estate, infrastructure, residential

Commercial real estate, hospitality, healthcare, residential

Typical Project Type

Office buildings, educational institutions, healthcare facilities

Commercial buildings, residential developments, infrastructure

Office spaces, retail spaces, residential buildings

Country of Origin




Certification Levels

Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum

Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent, Outstanding

Silver, Gold, Platinum

Well-Known Projects

One Central Park (Sydney), Bank of America Tower (New York), The Edge (Amsterdam)

The Crystal (London), The Edge (Amsterdam), Central Saint Giles (London)

PNC Tower (Pittsburgh), Cundall Sydney (Sydney), 100 Bishopsgate (London)

The Impact on Project Publicity:

Achieving certification from these programs is a badge of honor, signaling to the world that a project is committed to environmental responsibility and occupant well-being. It transforms a project into a showcase, attracting attention from industry peers, media, and potential clients. Each of these certification programs publishes promotional media, where they share winning projects and drive visibility to your project or firm. This can help a project break out of architecture-focused platforms onto more diverse media channels, like those introducing sustainability and innovation to other fields.

Each program provides 'winning' projects with physical plaques to be mounted along the facade, giving passersby a deeper level of understanding (and often, respect) for the building, and increasing interest and visibility in their local neighborhoods.

The Power of Validation:

Certifications serve as tangible proof that a project meets rigorous sustainability and health standards. In a world flooded with design options, having a LEED, BREEAM, or WELL certification elevates a project from the ordinary to the exceptional. It provides a sense of validation that goes beyond aesthetic appeal, assuring stakeholders that the project aligns with the highest standards of responsible design.

Building Consumer Trust:

In an era where consumers are increasingly eco-conscious, these certifications become powerful tools for building trust. Potential occupants, investors, and clients are more likely to trust a project that has been rigorously evaluated for sustainability and well-being. It becomes a statement of accountability, showcasing a commitment to not only the present but also the future well-being of the environment and its inhabitants.

To better understand the unique strengths of LEED, BREEAM, and WELL certifications, we've prepared detailed comparison tables. These tables break down the specific categories each program evaluates, allowing you to see at a glance where their focuses lie.

What do the different programs evaluate?





Energy Efficiency

Water Conservation

Materials Selection

Indoor Environmental Quality

Site Sustainability



Social Impact

Economic Impact

Life Cycle Assessment

Occupant Health & Well-Being

Fitness & Comfort

Critiques of Certification Programs:

While these certification programs play a crucial role in promoting sustainability, they are not without their critics. Some common critiques include:

  1. Complexity and Cost: Critics argue that the certification process can be complex and expensive, potentially limiting accessibility for smaller projects or organizations with budget constraints.

  2. Emphasis on New Construction: The focus on new construction projects may sideline the potential impact of retrofitting existing buildings, which form a significant part of the built environment.

  3. Standardization Challenges: Achieving standardization across diverse building types, locations, and cultural contexts can be challenging, leading to concerns about the adaptability and relevance of certain criteria.

  4. Limited Occupant Input: Some argue that the occupant well-being criteria, while present, might not fully capture the diverse needs and preferences of building occupants.

While these critiques are valid, they suggest a need for the continuing development of these programs. Increasing access and constant re-evaluation of the criteria, especially as scientific knowledge compounds, will be an important factor for each program's future relevance and impact. For now, it's a great start for the industry and consumers alike.

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1 Comment

Brian Tamanaha
Brian Tamanaha
Dec 04, 2023

A very informative post!

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