GN3.1: Ratings and certifications

Guidance Note purpose 

The purpose of this Guidance Note is to advise asset managers, property managers and facilities managers about the application and benefits of sustainability rating and certification schemes for real estate assets. 

Context 

Ratings and certifications are used to evaluate the sustainability attributes of a property and to enable comparison against industry benchmarks. 

Individual rating and certification schemes are designed to reflect the characteristics of particular property types, intended uses and life-cycle phases.  Schemes reflect specific scopes of sustainability, which, in general, cover environmental, health and well-being issues.  Many rating and certification schemes have begun to take account of recent developments, such as net-zero commitments and COVID-19. 

Various rating and certification schemes have been developed in different parts of the world.  For example, WELL and LEED are prominent in America, whilst BREEAM is popular in Europe. 

Importance 

Most often, participation in rating and certification schemes is voluntary.  However, there are a number of schemes which have mandatory requirements, for example Energy Performance Certificates.  Occasionally, achieving a target rating within a specified scheme, for example BREEAM New Construction, may be required as a planning condition.  

Rating and certification schemes can: 

  • Contribute towards future-proofing properties against emerging requirements.  This can help mitigate the risk of ‘stranded assets’ through regulatory developments or new policy commitments relating to, for example, carbon efficiency. 
  • Enable sustainable building design and operational practices to be promoted to a range of stakeholders.  This may include developments and refurbishments being marketed as ‘best practice’, which in turn can enhance the potential for increased rental rates and longer-term improvement in asset value. 
  • Support engagement with investors, some of which may require scheme certification across real estate portfolios before committing to investment.  This can also help to enhance rating within some investor index tools, for example, GRESB, CDP, TCFD, GRI, UNPRI, EPRA.  
  • Contribute towards meeting occupiers’ requirements, where scheme certification may be required by, or align with, broader sustainability objectives. 
  • Align with health and well-being objectives, enhancing activities designed to reduce absence and enable motivated, productive and active workplaces.  

Responsibilities & Interests

The table below summarises the key activities associated with ratings and certifications, and highlights where asset managers, property managers and facilities managers are likely to have a responsibility or specific interest. 

  • AM - Asset Manager
  • PM - Property Manager
  • FM - Facilities Manager

Step 1: Identify rating and certification schemes that are potentially suitable for a property 

Stakeholder:

Step 2: Engage a competent individual to undertake pre-assessment and help prepare for assessment 

Stakeholder:

Step 3: Consider the overall costs and commitments associated with the preferred scheme 

Stakeholder:

Step 4: Prepare for the assessment with pre-assessment checks and outcome estimations 

Stakeholder:

Step 5: Review assessment outcome and make arrangements for the ongoing certification lifecycle  

Stakeholder:

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How to

Intro

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Ratings and certifications involve a number of considerations.  Usually, the decision to pursue a particular scheme is instructed by the asset manager and the process is coordinated by the property manager with input from the facilities manager. 

Considering rating and certification schemes involves the following steps: 

Step 1: Identify rating and certification schemes that are potentially suitable for a property

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  • Determine the stage of the property life cycle, and check that a selected rating or certification scheme is suitable for the application. For example, i.e. Is the project a new built, refurbishment, or fully occupied /in-use property? 
  • Consider the wider goals for the project. For example, is the goal to achieve recognised performance across the wider sustainability agenda, or is it specific to enhancing occupiers’ health and well-being? 

Step 2: Engage a competent individual to undertake pre-assessment and help prepare for assessment

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  • Understand the scheme’s evidence requirements and clarify responsibilities and arrangements for its provision. For example, how much time will be required by site or design teams to collate and prepare evidence to be submitted to the certification body? 

Step 3: Consider the overall costs and resource commitment associated with the preferred scheme

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  • Take account of the certifications costs that are associated with individual schemes. For example, is there available budget for guidance from a qualified assessor or competent person, and to accommodate assessment and registration costs? 

Step 4: Prepare for the assessment with pre-assessment checks and outcome estimations

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  • Estimate the likely rating outcome prior to undergoing a full certification through a pre-assessment exercise. For example, are mandatory credits accommodated, and is the predicted outcome in line with the target? 

Step 5: Review assessment outcome and make arrangements for the ongoing certification lifecycle

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  • Take note of the re-certification cycle associated with the scheme, and the associated cost implications. For example, are maintenance and recertification requirements incorporated within property management and occupier contracts? 

A selection ratings and certifications schemes are described below: 

BREEAM 

BREEAM is an assessment method administered by the Building Research Establishment which evaluates sustainability-related impacts for the built environment.  Certifications are rated on levels from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Unclassified’. 

Three BREEAM certifications are of particular relevance: 

BREEAM New Construction: Relates to the design, construction and intended use of new commercial and non-commercial building developments.  

BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment: Relates to the design and works of an existing buildings’ refurbishment or fit-out, including new homes.  

BREEAM In-use: Relates to the sustainability during the operation of an occupied building. 

 

GRESB 

GRESB is the Global Real Estate Benchmark for Real Estate GRESB.  GRESB assessments are guided by what investors and the industry consider to be material issues in the sustainability performance of real asset investments.  

Following assessment, GRESB participants receive comparative business intelligence on where they stand against their peers, insight into the actions they can take to improve their ESG performance and a communication platform to engage with investors. 

 

SKA 

SKA is an assessment method administered by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors which evaluates the sustainability of building fit outs. Certifications are rated on ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’ levels.  

SKA Design and Construction: Relates to the design, planning and delivery of commercial fit outs. 

SKA Operation: Relates to the sustainability performance of an occupied area in against the designed sustainability criteria. 

 

Fitwel 

Fitwel is a scorecard system administered by the Centre for Active Design which evaluates built environmental impacts on occupier health and wellbeing.  Certifications are rated on three-star levels. 

Fitwel Design and Construction: Relates to the assessment pathway for new construction and major refurbishment projects and is valid for three years.  

Fitwel Build: Relates to the post occupancy assessment pathway for existing and recently completed occupied buildings, valid for three years.  

 

WELL 

WELL is an assessment method administered by the International Well Buildings Institute which evaluates the health and wellbeing impacts of the built environment. Certifications are rated on ‘Platinum’, ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’ levels. 

WELL Building Standard: Relates to the health and wellbeing elements of a building’s policy, design and planning interventions, and the ongoing occupational arrangements. 

WELL Building Core and Shell: Relates to the health and wellbeing elements of a building's base design and operation, includes all areas controlled by the building owner.   

WELL Community: Relates to the health and wellbeing elements of inclusive and integrated communities, and high levels of social engagement.  

WELL Health and Safety: Relates to the health and wellbeing elements of new and existing occupied buildings, focusing on polices, stakeholder engagement and emergency planning.

  

LEED 

LEED is an assessment method administered by the U.S. Green Building Council to assess projects for green building strategies across several categories. Certifications are rated on ‘Platinum’, ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’ levels. 

NABERS 

The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is an Australian-devised initiative for assessing the operational environmental performance of commercial buildings. Certifications are rated on levels from one to six stars. 

The rating certification is valid for one year. A one-star rating essentially indicates that a building is performing considerably below the expected average, but has made a public commitment to make progress.  A six-star rating demonstrates market leading performance. 

The NABERS rating system is preparing to launch in the UK, with the introduction of “design for performance” to allow building developers and designers incorporate a similar methodology, based on indicative performance during the design stage. 

As of 2021, NABERS report certification has been awarded for 78% percent of Australia’s office space with approximately seven million tonnes of CO2 emission saved. 

Related Guidance Notes

The following Guidance Notes contain related information: 

Additional Resources