The year 2016 brings major changes in the certification of sustainable buildings across the Globe, including Romania, as the most frequently used methodologies, BREEAM and LEED, will be updated this year. While the new BREEAM 2016 version was just recently implemented, LEED v4 is due to launch in November. The updates replace existing versions and propose a more thorough approach to sustainable development, thus impacting all market players seeking to align their “green” building practices to the world’s leading certification authorities.

BREEAM 2016, the first certification scheme already launched, blends stricter environmental requirements with a simplified certification process. The new scheme officially became available on March 21st and, as of March 28, completely replaces the previous 2013 version, which will no longer be valid. The updated version includes certification criteria for new building types, such as hotels, schools and universities, and addresses some of the challenges faced by residential buildings, as more and more properties of this type are turning to sustainable building practices.

2013 was the previous year that brought such changes for investors, architects and producers of construction materials involved in sustainable development. Both USGBC (the organization responsible for preparing the LEED certificate) and BRE Global (the creator of BREEAM) then decided to implement new versions of their certificates. At the moment, previous certification schemes, such as BREEAM 2009, BREEAM 2013 or LEED v3 are still implemented in Romania, but these versions will become obsolete this year, with the new, updated versions taking their place.

LEED v4 will replace the existing LEED v3 starting at the end of October this year and proposes stricter rules regarding sustainable building. The LEED v3 has been in force since. When considering this initiative, both organizations have the same aim – supporting construction which is friendly for the environment and for the human. The implemented changes will make the two systems even more similar to each other. The new versions of BREEAM and LEED are more demanding, but they are both based on the schemes from 2009-2013. This means that knowledge gained during previous certifications will be very useful for all the participants engaged in the design process and implementation of buildings applying for the certificates in their newest versions. The fact that requirements set down by both versions of the certificates – BREEAM and LEED – are becoming more and more similar is not a coincidence and it should not surprise.

“The question most developers and investors ask is “Which of the two certification methodologies is more attractive for Romanian customers?” The choice depends primarily on the expectations of future tenants or buyers. Global corporations operating in Romania will probably choose office buildings certified according to the LEED system (based in USA), to suit their corporate social responsibility policies. European companies, in turn, will rather decide on a building with a BREEAM certificate (based in the UK). The important consideration to make here is that both systems have the same aim – to introduce suitable standards and promote sustainable construction. It would therefore be hasty to say that gaining a LEED certificate would guarantee better compliance with those standards than gaining a BREEAM certificate, or vice versa” – states Răzvan Nica, Managing Director BuildGreen.

BREEAM 2016 – main changes

In the case of BREEAM, management credits were reorganized in order to be better aligned to the construction process and the Core & Shell certification module for new buildings was redesigned and simplified, to be complementary with the  BREEAM Fit-out certification scheme issued in 2015.  Energy represents a major touch point for the new scheme, as the reference standard for energy efficiency was updated and local energy performance standards are now applicable (in Romania’s case – EPBD).

The main changes refer to restrictive conditions for indoor air quality, the shift from Low and zero carbon requirements to Low carbon design and the inclusion of new criteria and credits available for Passive design features. Other major changes refer to the responsible sourcing of materials (under BREEAM 2013 this was one of the options), the design for durability and resilience (the scope of this issue was significantly expanded), as well as NOx emissions (the benchmarks were changed to align with EU’s upcoming Eco-design directive).

A novelty in BREEAM 2013 was the engagement of a licensed BREEAM AP. In BREEAM 2016, the credits associated with BREEAM AP’s are now linked to a “Sustainability Champion”, a BREEAM AP is currently the only recognized sustainability champion.

BREEAM 2016 maintains partially and reorganized the prerequisites introduced in the 2013 version, apart from existing minimal standards. Meeting the prerequisites is mandatory. Importantly, a project cannot gain any points for meeting the prerequisites. Failing to comply with any of the main five of them makes it impossible to gain a certificate at all, and failing to comply with the remaining three means it will not be possible to gain points in that given category. In the case of minimal standards, a development receives a number of credits for them, but failing to comply with them on specific levels makes it impossible to gain the highest grade.

Similar to BREEAM 2013, the 2016 version puts a considerable emphasis on the concept and design phase, which is fundamental to the whole certification process and the whole construction. There are specific requirements to consult all the persons who are directly associated with the development, including neighbours.



In the newest version of LEED certification, the criteria related to the products used in the project have become stricter. In this category, LEED v4 puts emphasis on the assessment of a product’s lifecycle and environmental declarations. In LEED v4, the number of unscored prerequisites has increased from 8 to 12.

They are evaluated in the system in a “Yes” or “No” way. It means that failing to comply with any of them, at any stage, will disqualify the development from the certification process. Some of the criteria which used to be scored earlier have been turned into prerequisites (sine qua non-certification conditions), as USGBC has decided that they are too essential to let them be omitted in the certification process. These include among others: “Building­level energy metering” and “Construction and demolition waste Management planning”.

With regards to energy performance, LEED certification keeps as the main reference the ASHRAE standard, which has been updated to a newer and stricter version.

Acoustics and alternative transportation – common priorities

The requirements related to the acoustics of the building are stricter in both certificates. LEED v4 demands that the reverberation time – a standard parameter describing the acoustics of interiors for open office spaces – should not exceed 0.8 seconds. Acoustic ceilings should have a very high sound absorption coefficient. In BREEAM, in turn, it is mandatory to engage a suitably qualified acoustician, who will supervise and coordinate the works related to systems at each stage of the development, which will later result in a low level of noise in the building.


In both certificates, the requirements related to the number of parking places and facilities for cyclists have also become stricter. In LEED v4, USGBC is paying more attention to alternative transportation solutions, especially to the availability of cycle lanes in the direct vicinity of the development. This aspect already exists in the BREEAM scheme since 2009.

For more details on the main changes and new criteria introduced by the new BREEAM and LEED schemes, see the comparative documents below:

BREEAM Certification schemes comparison & LEED Certification schemes comparison