Last reviewed 17 December 2019

Energy management and the future security of energy supplies are increasingly hot topics. The demand for energy can be reduced by buildings that are designed and built to minimise energy consumption and then have a systems lifecycle that maintain their energy efficiency. In this article Alan Field explains a number of standards and specifications that can focus the efforts to achieve this.


Facilities and building managers, especially if they are responsible for new or substantially refurbished buildings, will find that this article is helpful in explaining how far certifications such as LEED, BREEAM or energy management systems such as ISO 50001:2018 impact on building services and their management.

What are LEED, BREEAM and ISO 50001?

LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a certification programme awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is currently at V4.1. It is widely used in North America and many other parts of the world.

BREEAM is the Building Research Establishment Environmental Method Assessment, last reissued in 2018. It has a strong level of acceptance in the UK and BREEAM is also marketed in some other parts of the world. However, outside the UK, BREEAM is not as widely adopted as LEED. It should also be remembered that Building Research Establishment (BRE) is now privately rather than UK Government owned, whereas USGBC are a not for profit organisation.

Both certification schemes provide assurance that a building has achieved a level of sustainable design and build based on the criteria the schemes individually lay down, often through graded levels of achievement, eg BREEAM Good, Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding. This is proved either through assessment to the criteria (BREEAM) or the design team submitting satisfactory detailed evidence to USGBC for approval. However, as we will see later, the impact of both certifications is much wider than the design and build as lifecycle is a key issue.

It should also be remembered that a design team may work to LEED or BREEAM but not seek formal certification i.e. both approaches can provide a template or goals-focused approach to lifecycle-based design.

Other certifications are available but LEED and BREEAM are the best known. There are also product standards, such as the U.S. “Energy Star ” which relate more to energy efficiency devices within a building rather than the building itself.

ISO 50001:2018 is an International Standards Organisation (ISO) management systems standard that belongs to the same family as ISO 9001:2015, which is widely adopted in the built environment sector for quality management. ISO 50001:2018 is focused on energy management systems. In the built environment sector this will almost always impact on the carbon management of a building; in particular, determining what is the baseline energy use and then identifying and monitoring ways to minimise, or more efficiently use, energy sources. It may also mean using different energy sources either to minimise emissions or to support renewables. All of this should, in turn, reduce the carbon footprint of the building, both through energy use and carbon emissions.

Due to the assessment fees and other indirect costs of achieving BREEAM or LEED, there normally has to be a specific reason for a developer to seek certification at a design stage. It may be, for example, to help meet planning requirements or with an office development, to attract high profile tenants who will pay premium rents in return for such an “eco” building. Arguably, as energy costs become progressively more expensive and, perhaps, some energy sources becoming scarcer, then any carbon efficient building will become even more premium – so, one paradigm would be that today’s “nice to have” may become tomorrow’s necessity.


Some people think of LEED and BREEAM as simply certifications that produce “green” or “eco” buildings i.e. they are design and construction methodologies, rather than building operations. This is not the case. Soon virtually all buildings will be “green” or “eco” as sustainable design is almost a given on every project, so it is now a case of some buildings being seen as more eco than others - the desire to seek a BREEAM “Very Good” or “Excellent” rating.

As indicated earlier – and a fact that is sometimes overlooked - both LEED and BREEAM require lifecycle management. In broad terms, this means the building isn’t just sustainable in the design and build stages - it is designed to stay that way, typically though a combination of design, materials and building systems. For example, with LEED this can even go as far as having (as an optional credit) an integrated pest management system which, amongst other considerations, protects the fabric of the building from attack by pests. Whilst this is a small and very specific issue it shows that the design team need to consider how both the fabric and maintenance routines will help keep the building at the level of sustainable efficiency it was designed to achieve.

Looking at a building’s “lifecycle” means that to continue to achieve longer term efficiencies, consideration may need to be given to other interventions over and above normal building management. This could include fabric refurbishments or an upgrade of mechanical and electrical (M&E) services.

When a facilities management professional takes on a BREEAM or LEED designed building, ascertaining what the M&E strategy is can be helpful in terms of understanding what will be key to the lifecycle. The author has seen one instance where a Building Management System (BMS) was released in packages to save money: because only certain software packages were deployed, this impacted detrimentally on the energy management of the building – the M&E strategy at design stage was to fully utilise the BMS. Indeed, with modern developments, Building Management Systems are designed as an integral part of controlling the building’s lifecycle – they aren’t just something that is purchased to manage the heating!

ISO 50001:2018

Where ISO 50001 is implemented, either the landlord or the occupier of building, will look critically at how energy is deployed within the building and at the processes managed from the site. A baseline is defined from carefully examining each and all energy sources and how they are used; in reality, this detailed analysis may never have been done before. In some cases, this will identify that unnecessary levels of energy are being used, or the use is inefficient. This could include computer monitors being left switched on after the business day, to more complex processes such as the way a BMS was programmed to control plant and machinery at different times of year.

Again, lifecycle design and controls are part of an energy management system — they certainly don’t sit in separate silos.

For more details on the requirements and practicalities of achieving ISO 50001 certification see our ISO 50001 toolkit, and Checklist. And for more detail on all aspects of energy management, see our Energy Management topics.


  • Energy management is not just a matter of sustainable design or efficient building management — it is a combination of both

  • Certifiable standards such as BREEAM and LEED can provide a framework to help achieve this

  • Good building systems and management isn’t just something that arises in new builds. Refurbishments can often take on all or some of the BREEAM or LEED principles and the lifecycle considerations used in the design

  • ISO 50001 is an energy management system, often looking for unnecessary energy use or defining more efficient ways to deploy energy where it is necessary to do so. These do not operate in a vacuum to the sustainable design of building — they can complement one and other

  • FM and other building professionals could usefully review the principles behind BREEAM, LEED and ISO 50001 — they can inform how buildings systems were anticipated to work and, therefore, help keep the building’s carbon management as efficient as possible.