There's a new green building standard in town, and it has its sights set on more than just certification. BREEAM USA, a joint venture between the global BRE Group and consultant firm BuildingWise, launched this summer with the goal of gathering data on the 5.6 million existing buildings in the U.S. to share knowledge and improve efficiencies.
Barry Giles, CEO of BREEAM USA, is a veteran of the green building movement and helped write the LEED for Existing Buildings standard with the U.S. Green Building Council. Now, he and his California-based firm BuildingWise are bringing the BREEAM standard — launched in Europe in 1990 and since expanded to 77 countries — to the U.S. to target the need for additional benchmarking for existing buildings.
Giles emphasized that the new standard, which has already seen strong demand from the U.S. building industry, is not seeking to compete with the popular LEED program, but rather is aiming to offer another option in the quest for more sustainable structures.
Construction Dive spoke with Giles during the 2016 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo last week in Los Angeles about the new BREEAM USA standard and the goal of collecting and sharing valuable data in an industry that struggles to break down barriers and exchange new ideas.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Can you tell me about the history of BREEAM and why you decided to expand into the U.S.?
GILES: BREEAM has been around almost 30 years. The BRE group built it to be a program for improving buildings throughout their lifecycle. It was the program that really bedrocked everything in the world because all green building statements came from BREEAM in one format or another.
Over the years, LEED has done an absolutely stunning job with the new construction marketplace. You can’t go anywhere in America without finding a federal, state or local requirement for LEED design and construction. But the target percentage of buildings which LEED is focused on is down very low — 5% to 10% of the marketplace, which means there’s all these existing buildings out there doing nothing. Obviously over the years, BREEAM has wanted to expand. We are doing our utmost to improve LEED EB, but I realized that was not going to work in the long-run.
What are the main differences between LEED and BREEAM?
GILES: If you’ve got a LEED project, you’ve got to have the prerequisites nailed. If you don’t nail the prerequisites, you can’t get in. You can’t put your data in. You can’t understand what good the data is to you. With BREEAM, you can go straight in. That what we’re trying to do — make it easy to get in, make it fast to get in, make it fiscally sound to get in the program.
Do you see BREEAM and LEED as competitors?
GILES: We don’t see them as competitors in the existing marketplace. There are 5.6 million existing commercial buildings in the U.S. To get even 10% of those buildings to do something, everybody’s going to have to chip in. We’re not going to walk in and say, "We’re not going to do BREEAM in here because you’re doing LEED." It’s up to the client. What does the client want?
People say, "You’re trying to put LEED out of business." That’s idiotic. We need everybody in on this. People need to realize this is not rocket science, but we need to make existing buildings run well. You can design and build the greenest building in the world, but if you don’t run it that way, it’s a serious waste of resources. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. You’ve got to understand how a building’s got to be run.
What is your vision for BREEAM in the U.S.?
GILES: I think the most important thing — as in any program — is what data comes out, what use is that data being put to, by whom, and what results are coming out of that movement of data to improve the building. Get it closer to zero carbon. Being European-based, we’re chasing zero carbon.
What would you say is the biggest focus of BREEAM?
GILES: We're interested in the data. While the BREEAM program has a certification role at the end of it, the most important thing is benchmarking. Getting the data into the hands of the team immediately in real-time. Yes, putting a plaque on a building is wonderful. But plaques are nothing more than a piece of recycled glass. We want to see somebody certified, yes, but what I want them to do is get the data out and make use of that data now.
With 5.6 million buildings, there is no way BREEAM is going to do all of those. There’s no way LEED is going to do them. But we could do it if we started working together and putting data together. There will be some buildings that don’t want to do any certification program. But there’s this whole data set. Why don’t we try letting you use that data set?
Do you think the building industry has previously been averse to data sharing?
GILES: I don’t think it’s averse, but I don’t think they really understood what data they had. When it’s come to LEED, we don’t share the data across [the industry]. We can make the stock of buildings improve much quicker if we have a little bit more transparency.
What would you say is the primary benefit of obtaining a BREEAM certification?
GILES: If you get a certification, you’re part of reflecting your building in the world picture. You also get a clear understanding of how close you are to zero carbon. It is coming. Talk to the city of San Francisco or the city of Los Angeles: Where’s our carbon number? We need to reduce our carbon number.
What do you think is the most important thing about BREEAM that the U.S. building industry should know?
GILES: The most important thing the industry needs to do is try it. If it doesn’t fit with your lifestyle or your company, that’s fine. What I want to see is the data set that you make use of. And let us know how you get on.