Identification, encouragement, and measurement of sustainability compliance through the establishment of green rating systems has largely helped mitigate the direct and indirect environmental impacts of construction over the past thirty years. The introduction of the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), in the 1990s, the first green building rating system in the world, was vital in holding up the idea of green buildings at a time when sustainability was not a well-known concept. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) followed shortly thereafter in the 2000s. The objective of green rating systems is to design and apply resource-efficient and environmentally responsible techniques in architecture. These systems help verify and demonstrate environmental performance, quantify the scope for improvement, and assist in positive marketing.

Five of the most important green rating systems in architecture include the following:


The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is a globally renowned green assessment method that provides independent third-party assessment and certification for the sustainability of buildings. This international scheme was developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

It uses sustainability standards developed by BRE (Assessments are made on the energy and water consumption, wellbeing, pollution, ecology, transportation, materials, waste, and management processes). BREEAM rates performance on a scale of ‘Pass’, ‘Good’, and ‘Very Good’. The BREEAM standard encompasses the entire life cycle of the building by demonstrating sustainability performance during the planning stage, the design phase, the construction, the operation, and the refurbishment stage, thus diminishing the running costs and maximizing the return of investments. While the use of the BREEAM rating system is voluntary, earning a BREEAM certificate can simplify the task of obtaining the Planning Approval. However, the BREEAM assessment method is mandatory for many Local Planning Authorities in London.

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Envac’s waste collection station in Stora Ursvik (Sweden’s first BREEAM certified industrial building). Photography by Åke E ©
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BREEAM certified residential building-Falconhoven L-block Apartments, Belgium ©


LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most popular green building rating system in the world. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides a concise framework for identifying and executing green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance.

The LEED certification is an international symbol of sustainability leadership and performance. LEED is available for all building types – commercial as well as residential and all building phases including design and construction, operations, interiors, and retrofit. The levels of certification achieved range from Certified, Silver, and Gold, to Platinum based on the sustainable strategies adopted.

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LEED platinum certified Helen Sommers Building certified in Washington ©
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The University of Texas at Dallas Student Services Building- the first academic building in Texas to receive LEED Platinum status ©

3. Green Globes

The Green Globes is a green building assessment and certification system owned and administered by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), a nonprofit organization established in 2004. GBI works towards accelerating the development and use of energy-efficient and environmentally safe methods in architecture. The GBI educates through its Green Globes program– a third-party verification and certification scheme in which buildings that have won over thirty-five percent of the total available points can score a rating of 1 to 4 Green Globes. The evaluation begins with a questionnaire-based self-assessment that can be easily done in-house, thus eliminating the cost of consultant services. It features interactive guidance with pop-up tips in simple language, easy navigation, and a digital manual. Users can see how points are being awarded, hence making it an affordable, user-friendly, and transparent green building solution.

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The Clinton Presidential Centre which received a rating of Two Green Globes from GBI ©
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The Joseph Arnold Lofts-the first residential high-rise building in Seattle to achieve Green Globes certification ©

4. BCA Green Mark Scheme

Developed by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), the Green Mark Scheme is a benchmarking scheme aimed at promoting and adopting green building techniques in the construction and real estate sectors. It was launched in January 2005 to achieve environmental efficiency by incorporating sustainability in design and construction. The key objective of the scheme is to narrow the potential environmental impact and improve indoor environmental quality and wellbeing through strategic energy, water, and material resource consumption

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©BCA Green Mark Scheme
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Solaris Singapore – certified BCA Green Mark Platinum ©
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SCAPE is a Green Mark Gold certified 5 Storey building located next to Cineleisure and Somerset MRT Station ©

5. Pearl

Developed by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council as part of its sustainable development initiative Estidama- which is the Arabic word for sustainability. Estidama arose from the need to plan, design, execute, and maintain sustainable developments suitable for the harsh climate of the region while enriching and preserving the rich local culture and traditions. The Pearl rating system can be divided into communities, buildings, and villas, with different requirements for each and various levels of certification ranging from one to three pearls. A minimum rating of one pearl is mandated (two pearls for government buildings) for all new development projects within the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The Pearl Rating comprises three stages. The first stage is the Pearl Design Rating, the completion of which paves the way to the Building Permit. The second stage is the Pearl Construction Rating fulfillment of which can help obtain the Certificate of Completion. The third is the Pearl Operations Rating.

Abu Dhabi Airports that acquired 2 Pearl ratings from Estidama, for the construction of the District Cooling Plan of the Midfield Terminal (MTB), and the fire station at Sir Bani Yas Island Airport ©
The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre in Al Ain achieved the five pearl rating of the Estidama Pearl Rating System (PRS) in the design phase ©

Green rating systems challenge architects to look at the project from a new perspective to achieve both cost reduction and durability, attract investments, and promote stakeholder participation. Buildings designed within the eco-friendly framework of a green assessment technique create more resilient communities and increased opportunities to sustain natural ecosystems.


Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.