10 differences between BREEAM and LEED (and which is better?)

If you’ve worked on building projects in the last decade (or two) around the world then you’ve likely come across LEED and BREEAM.  I received my LEED GA certification circa 2012 and at the time thought it was the only reputable “green building” certification on the market (classic American point of view).   I then worked on a few projects overseas and heard that it was actually number 2…..

The Dutch are known for their forward thinking architecture and sustainability and I was lucky enough to partner with one of the Netherland’s largest developers recently for a huge project.  Throughout the negotiations they kept referring to BREEAM and also brought WELL to the table (which I’ll get into another time).  We ultimately went with LEED (it was a project in the US) and WELL but it spurred an interest to figure out what the main overlaps, differences, and drivers are for the two major green building certifications.

#1 – Different Types of Certification

LEED breaks certification down into New Construction, Existing Buildings, Interiors, Shell & Core, and a few specialty space types such as Retail, Health Care, Homes and the larger scale Neighborhood Development.

BREEAM takes a different view, by focusing primarily on the usage of the facility by focusing on categories such as Industrial, Retail, Office, Healthcare, Education, etc…

Edge: Tie

#2 – Age

BREEAM hit the scene in 1990 while LEED was introduced in 1998


#3 – Standards

LEED relies on ASHRAE, a US standard for heating, cooling, and AC while BREEAM focuses on European/UK standards.

Edge: Tie – both are too region specific to roll-out easily around the globe

#4 – Cost

Both LEED and BREEAM come with a relatively hefty price tag…

LEED costs approximately $1,000 for registration and between $2k and $30k for review/assessment, bringing the total to a wide range of $3k-$33k.  Based on my experience with LEED, this likely ignores a number of hidden costs from architects required to complete paperwork and answer questions, which can increase quickly depending on complexity of the project.

BREEAM registration costs approximately $1k, an assessor will cost approxiamtely $5-10k and BREEAM review fees will run another $5-$15k, for a total final range of $11k – $26k for BREEAM certification.

Edge: tie, but potentially BREEAM given potential cost savings from a 3rd party architect involvement

#5 – Who does the certification?

BREEAM certification is done by a trained BREEAM assessor brought in during the project who then reports results to the parent company who cerifies and it.  LEED certification is completed by the project team and submitted to the US Green Building Council for verification.

Edge: I have no idea… it seems like a pain in the #$@ to bring in a 3rd party, but dealing with architects through this process is no walk in the park.  Both lose credit on this one

#6 – Documentation

LEED has a huge amount of paperwork required to achieve certification while BREEAM is lighter on its submittal requirements (there is also an assessor who handles it rather than the project team)


#7 – Government Support

BREEAM is required by the UK as the standard used to certify government buildings.  The Netherlands has also adopted BREEAM as its standard.   Similarly, the US requires LEED as its certification standard.

Edge: Tie

#8 – Difficulty

Multiple sources cited that the highest rating in BREEAM, BREEAM Outstanding, is more difficult to achieve than LEED’s highest rating of Platinum.

Edge: Tie

#9 – Widespread use

As of July, 2016 LEED boasted 82,800 LEED commercial and NC projects while BREEAM notes that 554,600 buildings are BREEAM certified.

Edge: BREEAM – although it’s intuitive that BREEAM would be more widespread as they are old enough to be the parent of LEED (yes, it would have been a teen pregnancy)

#10 – Energy targets

LEED measures points relative to cost reduction relative to a baseline standard (ASHRAE) while BREEAM measures according to reduction in CO2 emissions.

Edge: Tie – Wisdom in both


Not what I expected…. as many of the above mentioned factors point to the edge going to BREEAM.  I read a few passages that suggested LEED is more comprehensive in areas such as heat island effects, thermal comfort and Indoor air quality, so there could be a few points to award there….. I need to delve more into the details (points systems, etc..) of each in order to make a serious conclusion.   Sounds like a good topic for analysis #2.



Click to access breeamvsleed.pdf





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