An overview of certification systems relevant to the market

Green buildings are buildings designed using sustainability as a guiding principle.
Building certification is a tool that has become established worldwide for rating sustainable construction and improvements to existing buildings. In a time when using resources sustainably, reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring health and wellbeing are more vital than ever, certifications are also becoming increasingly important.

A number of certification systems for sustainable buildings have been developed in previous years based on the three pillars of sustainability: ecology, economy and sociocultural issues. The range of rating criteria used in these systems provide a form of guidance.
More than 40 different certification systems are available internationally, based on a wide range of approaches and objectives.

Sustainability at the highest level:
The Edge, BREEAM Outstanding.


Deka Immobilien’s “The Edge” property in the Zuidas district of Amsterdam is one of the most innovative buildings in the world. “The Edge” received BREEAM New Construction sustainability certification with a rating of “Outstanding

A selection of different certification systems

  • Australia: Nabers, Green Star
  • Brazil: AQUA, LEED® Brazil
  • China: GBAS
  • Germany: DGNB
  • Finland: PromisE
  • France: HQE
  • United Kingdom: BREEAM® UK
  • Hong Kong: HK-BEAM
  • India: LEED® India, TerriGriha
  • Italy: Protocollo Itaca
  • Canada: LEED® Canada, Green Globes
  • Malaysia: GBI Malaysia
  • Mexico: LEED® Mexico
  • Netherlands: BREEAM® NL
  • New Zealand: Green Star NZ
  • Austria: ÖGNB - TQB (TQB since 1998; ÖGNB since 2009); klima:aktiv (since 2005, Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology); DNGB, since 2009 - adapted by ÖGNI
  • Philippines: BERDE, PHILGBC
  • Portugal: Lider A
  • Switzerland: Minergie
  • Singapore: Green Mark
  • Spain: VERDE
  • South Africa: Green Star SA
  • United States: LEED®, Green Globes

Certification systems - Similarities and differences

BREEAM®, LEED® and DGNB are the main sustainability certification systems in Europe. The evaluation is based on a variety of criteria that structurally assess the sustainability performance of buildings. The HQE sustainability certificate was launched in 2005. Certifications according to HQE are mainly used in France. At their core, these certificates mostly assess the ecological quality as well as the socio-cultural and functional quality of the buildings. In comparison, the German DGNB label reflects the “totality" of the sustainability definition: Ecology | Economy | Sociocultural. BREEAM and LEED focus mainly on the ecological aspect. The WELL Building Standard has been awarded since 2014 and is characterised by its strong focus on the health and well-being of users.

The following is a comparative overview of the market-relevant certification systems in Europe:

The UK BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) system was the first building certification system of its kind to be developed and was first published in 1990.

BREEAM logo delivered by bre.jpg


Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method

BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. This certification system was developed in 1990 in the United Kingdom (UK) by BRE Global Limited (UK 1990). Formed in 1921, BRE is an independent UKAS-accredited research and certification body and a subsidiary of the BRE Trust. It introduced the first certification systems to the market in 1990.

Since then, more than 2.3 million building have been registered and more than 590,000 have been certified. BREEAM is currently operating in 90 countries. BRE Global Limited is the national system provider for BREEAM in the United Kingdom and is mainly responsible for the development of BREEAM system in the UK and internationally. Other national representatives, referred to as "National Scheme Operators" (NSOs), also exist. NSOs have an exclusive licence from BRE Global to develop their own national rating systems based on BREEAM. These national systems are developed by adjusting existing BREEAM systems to local standards, laws and the built environment, while ensuring comparability with the BREEAM International standard. There are currently five NSOs operating in Europe. TÜV SÜD DIFNI is the NSO for BREEAM in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
There are a number of prerequisites based on the usage profile that have to be satisfied to achieve certification.

BREEAM - Categories und points system

BREEAM points system:

Ratings are based on the level of performance achieved and are indicated by stars. Depending on the performance achieved, 1 to 5 stars are awarded for new constructions, and 1 to 6 stars for existing buildings and modernisations.

BREEAM performance levels for new constructions and existing buildings


BREEAM sustainability categories:

The BREEAM New Construction system includes nine main categories and the "Innovation" bonus category. BREEAM covers the entire life cycle of buildings in accordance with the "Code for a Sustainable Built Environment".


This category encourages the adoption of sustainable management practices in connection with design, construction, commissioning, handover and aftercare activities.


Health and wellbeing:
This category is used to rate the comfort, health and safety of building occupants.


The energy criteria are aimed at promoting energy-efficient building solutions, systems and equipment and reducing CO2 emissions, especially through the use of renewable energies.


The criteria in this category rate the location and location infrastructure, e.g. proximity to public transport and local amenities. The implementation of alternative transport solutions is also encouraged.


This category is aimed at reducing the consumption of drinking water by using the most water-efficient equipment indoors and outdoors.


The criteria in the materials category encourage decisions that reduce the negative environmental impacts of the construction materials used during design, construction, maintenance and repair.


This category is used to rate sustainable management of construction and operational waster.


Land use and ecology:
This category encourages sustainable land use, habitat protection and the improvement of biodiversity at the location.


This category rates the prevention and control of pollution and surface water run-off associated with the building's location.


This category rewards exemplary performance and innovation.


Percentage weights for each BREEAM New Construction categories.


"BREEAM is a registered trademark of BRE  (Building Research Establishment Ltd. European Trade Mark No. 5778551).
The BREEAM trademarks,  logos and symbols are the copyright of BRE and may only be reproduced with permission.
The BREEAM trademarks are used under licence."

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard in the USA was developed in 1998, using BREEAM as a basis.



Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

LEED® stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It was developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council® (USGBC), using the UK BREEAM certification system as a basis. LEED® is the best-known international sustainability certificate for buildings. It defines a number of standards for environmentally friendly, resource-conserving, sustainable construction. Buildings have been certified by LEED® in more than 150 countries.
LEED® can be used to rate the sustainability of all building types over their entire life cycle (planning, construction, operation). The various LEED® systems rate buildings using seven basic categories and two bonus categories.

LEED - Categories und points system

LEED points system:

The rating is based on a points system. Prerequisites also have to be satisfied before a building can be certified, along with Minimum Program Requirements. No points are awarded for satisfying these prerequisites. Points can be distributed in any manner across the remaining criteria (Credits). A maximum of 110 points can be earned.
The following certification levels can be awarded based on the number of points earned: 


LEED sustainability categories:

The LEED system includes seven main categories and two bonus categories.


Location and transportation
The criteria in this category rate the location and location infrastructure, e.g. proximity to public transport and local amenities. They also take into account whether construction takes place on a previously developed property or a green area. The implementation of alternative transportation solutions is also encouraged.


Sustainable sites
This category encourages sustainable land use, habitat protection and the improvement of biodiversity at the location.


Water efficiency
This category is aimed at reducing the consumption of drinking water by using the most water-efficient equipment indoors and outdoors.


Energy and atmosphere
The energy and atmosphere criteria are aimed at improving building energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable energy sources. The environmental friendliness of the air conditioning is also rated.


Materials and resources
The criteria in the materials and resources category rate the use of sustainable materials and sustainable waste management during the construction and operating phases.


Indoor environmental quality
This category is aimed at improving indoor air quality and occupant comfort by e.g. using an adequate ventilation strategy and daylighting. The use of zero-emission materials also plays a role.


This category rewards exemplary performance, i.e. overachievement of sustainability criteria and innovation.


Regional priority
This category awards bonus points for measures related to the region.


Integrative process
This category promotes first-class, cost-effective project results by analysing the interactions between building systems at an early stage.


Percentage weighting of LEED categories.


LEED® and the related logo is a trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council and is used with permission.

In Germany, the German Sustainable Building Council (known by its German acronym DGNB) has awarded German certification for sustainable construction since 2009. The certification system was developed together with the former German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, known today as Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.



German Sustainable Building Council

The DGNB is Europe's largest network for sustainable building practices. To enable sustainable building practices to be applied, measured and compared, the DGNB developed its own certification system: the "German Sustainable Building Certification" (now known as the "DGNB System"), which was first used in the market in 2009. The system has been steadily improved since then and is now considered an advanced, internationally recognised green building certification system.

DGNB - Categories und points system

The DGNB System is based on the three pillars of sustainability — ecology, economy and sociocultural issues, which are equally weighted in the rating. To achieve an overall assessment, the DGNB system also rates the location, technical quality and process quality. Performance in these areas is rated using up to 37 certification criteria that are individually adjusted for different use types and can be applied to new constructions, existing buildings, renovations and building operation.


DGNB points system:

The DGNB System rates buildings based on the performance achieved. The total performance index is calculated from the values achieved in six areas. DGNB certificates are awarded in Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze based on the rating achieved, with the Platinum certification being the best. Buildings that achieve a total performance index of 50% or higher receive DGNB Silver certification. DGNB Gold certification is awarded for a total performance index of 65% or higher, and a project must achieve a total performance index of 80% or higher to receive Platinum certification.
DGNB aims to promote uniformly high standards for buildings. Certification is therefore not based on the total performance index alone. Performance must also achieve a minimum level in the areas relevant to the rating before certification is awarded.

DGNB certification and performance levels from Platinum to Bronze.



DGNB sustainability categories:


Ecological quality
The six ecological quality criteria allow an assessment of the building's effects on the global and local environment, resource consumption and waste generation. One of the main focuses is on preparing an environmental analysis of the building indicating resource consumption and primary energy use over the entire life cycle of the building, including construction, use and demolition.


Economic quality
The criteria for economic quality are used to assess long-term economic efficiency (life cycle costs) and performance.


Sociocultural and functional quality
The eight sociocultural and functional quality criteria help to assess buildings in terms of health, comfort and user satisfaction, as well as important aspects of functionality.


Technical quality
The seven technical quality criteria allow technical quality to be assessed in terms of relevant sustainability aspects.


Procedural quality
The nine procedural quality criteria are aimed at optimising the quality of planning and construction until the building is commissioned.


Location quality
The four criteria for location quality are used to assess sustainability aspects related to the quality of the building's surroundings and infrastructure, as well as the interaction between the project and building environment.

HQE Logo.jpg

Haute Qualité Environnementale -  HQE

The sustainability certificate HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale = high environmental quality) was launched in 2005 by the Association pour la Haute Qualité Environnementale (ASSOHQE). The ASSOHQE is made up of players from the French construction industry and aims to stimulate discussions in the sector and thereby improve construction quality in the long term.

The HQE certificate was initially introduced as a standard for existing and new office and school buildings, but can now also be applied to single-family houses and larger residential buildings. It is intended to encourage builders and planners to develop buildings with maximum comfort and minimum environmental impact. For quality assurance purposes, an assessment is carried out by an independent expert after commissioning, planning and completion, on the basis of which certification takes place in the three levels Très Performant, Performant or Base.

The criteria can be divided into two categories:

  • Impact on the external environment, e.g. “Harmonious relationship
    between buildings and their immediate surroundings”, “Minimisation
    of waste in ‘operation’”, “Minimisation of energy use” or “Minimisation
    of the building maintenance and upkeep”.
  • Indoor climate, e.g. “hydrothermal control measures”, “visual attractiveness”,
    “odour control measures” or “control of air quality”.

Certifications according to HQE are mainly used in France and are not yet mandatory.

Wellbeing Logo.jpg

WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard has been awarded by the American International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) since 2014. The standard takes a holistic approach and comprises 10 thematic areas (so-called concepts) that incorporate the well-being and health of tenants and users: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Spirit, Community.
Each concept includes a variety of criteria, with certain minimum requirements to be met for one of the four awards (bronze, silver, gold, platinum).
The programme distinguishes three project types: new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors, core and shell.
Compared to the other well-known green building standards, WELL is characterised by its strong focus on tenants’ health and well-being.