A New Path: Exploring Alternative Certification for Existing Buildings

BREEAM USA In-Use rating system

In Fall 2016, more than 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. received their first opportunity for global sustainability performance benchmarking and recognition with BREEAM — the United States’ newest sustainable assessment method. While it has existed in international forms for more than 25 years, the arrival of the BREEAM USA In-Use rating system to the U.S. market comes at a critical time in the built environment sector. The rumored elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency’s famed EnergyStar program, a program that has successfully benchmarked building performance for over two decades, has many concerned about what’s next. The need for ascribing to and obtaining recognition for environmental performance will only increase as Federal support wanes.

But the question remains: how can institutions be encouraged to be part of the sustainability discussion when the certification process can be unintentionally exclusive? In many situations, certification depends on all partners buying in to the certification process – from tenants and developers, to property management firms and more. The process can accordingly become expensive and time-consuming, limiting the number able to complete it. The BREEAM USA In-Use rating system shifts that pattern, allowing the process to be led with buy-in from a single party.

The first project to go through BREEAM certification is a strong case study of the system’s utility. Macerich, a major retail real estate S&P 500 firm, recently built The Oaks, a 1.6 million square foot shopping mall in Thousand Oaks, CA. Due to the project’s many tenants and time constraints for benchmarking performance, the BREEAM USA In-Use rating system provided a cost-effective, seamless, and user-friendly certification process. If it had not been available, Macerich would not have been able to properly benchmark The Oaks’ sustainability performance, preventing its progressive sustainability strategies – such as on-site renewable energy through solar and the installation of new LED lighting with control protocols – from being recognized in national and international arenas.

At Urban Fabrick we are excited to seeing how the market will transform to meet the needs for recognition, benchmarking, inspiration, and accomplishing institutional goals!


Urban Fabrick is a building sustainability and communications consultancy with the mission to make sustainability accessible and engaging to all. We work with our clients to build better buildings and create more livable, walkable urban neighborhoods. We deliver sustainable, cost-effective building outcomes by synthesizing research, policies and technology, and guide the progress of green building certifications, net-zero energy design and climate positive development at any scale.

Our services bridge many of the professional knowledge gaps that exist between today’s business-as-usual design practices and those required to successfully realize high-performance outcomes. We help project teams to understand and navigate energy and green building codes and regulations and to design their buildings to meet or exceed applicable requirements. We apply our decades of experience in green building, design and resilience planning to help our clients make smarter decisions.