10 Advancements in Environmental Engineering

LEED, BREEAM, Green Star and Other Certification Programs
Hearst Tower, the first occupied green commercial building with LEED certification. © Ramin Talaie/Corbis

Buildings are going certifiably green. As we've become more conscious of the effect our buildings have on the environment and on us directly, organizations have developed voluntary methods of rating the environmental impact and efficiency of buildings, homes and other similar structures. These include the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). BREEAM was started in 1990 by the BRE Trust and has been the dominant assessment standard in the U.K. LEED is a U.S. standard created by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998. BREEAM and LEED are the most commonly used methods worldwide at the moment, but others are springing up, like Green Star -- created by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) in 2003 -- as well as CASBEE in Japan and Estidama in Abu Dhabi.

Assessments take place both during design and after completion. Existing structures or commercial interior spaces can also be rated. The standards can be tailored to different regions or construction types, and buildings are rated on various things, including energy efficiency, water efficiency, land use, pollution, waste and indoor environmental quality.

The existence of such assessment entities helps to bring environmentally friendly construction and operational practices into the mainstream, which is especially important since buildings apparently contribute more than 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in some areas [source: HVN Plus]. Going green can also cut down on energy, water and other costs and improve the health of people working in the structures. As an added bonus, good ratings might qualify a building for tax rebates and other monetary incentives, and may increase property and rental values.

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