Sustainable Innovation

French Building Sector should speed up process of BREEAM-HQE alignment

The UK based Sustainable Building Organisation BRE Global, the French CSTB and its certification body Certivéa have signed an MOU in June 2009. The objective is to align the Environmental Building Certification Schemes BREEAM and HQE. The organisations want to develop one unique certification scheme for the French market. An important requirement is the compatibility with other BREEAM certification schemes in Europe. The progress seems to stagnate. The French Building Industry Partners should urge the responsible parties to speed up the process in order to maintain their international market position (1,2). 


BRE and CSTB have signed MOU in June 2009 for further international alignment of Sustainable Building Certification Methods – notably BREEAM and HQE.

What happened since June 2009 ?  In France, the main certification scheme so far remains HQE. The Best Practices of Bouygues Immobilier show some good examples of this. In the French press, there is hardly any news about BREEAM scheme, nor about the BRE-CSTB alignment project that is going on. How come ? What is happing ? Why should the French Building Industry be concerned ?

BREEAM is being rolled out all over Europe

In 1990, the UK based Building Research Establishment (BRE) has launched the BRE Environment Assessment Method (BREEAM). It involves an environmental assessment and certification for Retail buildings, Offices, Education, Prisons, Courts, Healthcare, Industrial, Specialised buildings and Multi-Residential buildings. Since the nineties over 700,000 buildings have been registered and 135,000 buildings have been assessed by one of the 4000 official BRE licensed accessors, certified by BRE Global (3) .

Whilst the first certification projects started abroad, it soon became evident that environmental legislation, climate and soil specifics vary from one country to the other. BRE Global therefore created the BREEAM International Framework. This framework is a tool to allowing an adaptation to local contexts while ensuring comparison of buildings across borders.

In Europe, the BREEAM Europe Commercial scheme was the first step in that direction. The Commercial Scheme allows retail, office and industrial buildings to be assessed using one unique methodology across Europe that takes into account specificities of each national context.

BRE Global is now taking the principle one step further. The organisation, still based in Great-Brittan, is creating partnerships with local building certification bodies or national Green Building Councils. The partnership objectives are to develop local versions of the scheme available in the local language and managed locally to ensure national ownership within the overall International framework.

As a consequence, it will be much easier for international companies, public organisations and building developers to compare sustainable buildings between countries.  One unique methodology across borders to facilitate the reporting of the environmental performance of their buildings at the corporate scale while ensuring that their local design teams have access to national needs and construction practices.


Principles of the BREEAM assessment method, one single ‘note’ is given, based on an assessment of all aspects of Management, Healt & Wellbeing, Energy, Transport, Water, Materials, Waste, LandUse & Ecology, Pollution and Innovation (3),

Since 2008, a number of countries have validated the BREEAM International framework through their official bodies : Among them are The Netherlands , by the Dutch Green Building Council, who lauched their locally adapted version of the scheme called BREEAM NL in October 2009 ;  Ireland, Spain and Latvia are in the process of working on the adaptation process in close cooperation with industry stakeholders; Turkey, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Poland and Bulgaria through their respective national Green Building Councils (GBCs). The GBC of these last countries have also decided to adapt BREEAM into their national sustainable building certification scheme and will soon be setting up working groups to start the process (4). More countries are still in discussion.

Local guidelines are built interactively in a series of consultations with stakeholders such as governmental bodies, building industry partners and scientific experts. This ensures maximum ownership and relevance of the scheme. For the participating companies joining BREEAM International methodology was seen as a very logical business step as their customers increasingly require Sustainable Buildings, on an international scale.

In green countries assessments of projects are currently carried out using the BREEAM Europe Commercial guidelines.[AA1]  

France has developed the HQE scheme for tertiary buildings

In France, the ‘Centre Scientifique et Technique du Batiment’ (CSTB) and its certification body ‘Certivea’ are responsible for the ‘Haute Qualite Environmentale’ (HQE) method. The method was launched in 2005 in France. It consists of 14 pillars spread over 4 themes ‘ Eco-construction’, ‘ Eco-Management’, ‘Comfort’ and Health’ . HQE has become the new standard for tertiary buildings in France. 380 buildings have been certified since. It is expected that half of the tertiary building to be operation in 2010 should be HQE certified (5). Apart from projects in Belgium, Luxembourg and Algeria, the HQE method has so far not been further adapted outside France.

The 14 pillars of the HQE method (5), 3 pillars should be ‘very good’, 4 pillars should be ‘good’, the rest could be ‘basic’ performance

What are the plans of BRE, CSTB and Certivea ?

The cooperation of CSTB, Certivea and BRE should eventually lead to the ‘delivery’ of one unique certification scheme in France by Certivea. Whether this would be a kind of ‘BREEAM-France’ (which would be logical from an European perspective), a HQE-BREEAM mix or totally newly developed international sustainable building guidelines, remains the question.

1. Phase 1 : The first phase (foreseen June 2009 – January 2010) should have resulted in the translation of the BREEAM Europe Commercial scheme (covering retail, offices, and industrial buildings) to French local context. Certivea will act as the certification body on behalf of BRE Global during this first phase, facilitating the communication in France and reassuring the BREEAM methodology. So far, there has not been any communiction about the results of the first pahse. It was heard that working groups with key industry partners should be start this month (april). It remains unclear if CSTB, Certivea and BRE are still willing to proceed.

2. Phase 2a : Certivea would be the new and sole representative of BREEAM in France on behalf of BRE Global for 36 months. The BREEAM certification process will remain the same, in particular BREEAM International assessors will still be carrying out assessments for the clients. Customers would be able to choose between HQE and BREEAM in this period.

3. Phase 2b : was envisaged in case a totally new (third generation) certification scheme would be relevant to the local contact. In this case, a new certification scheme should be developed.

4. As of phase 3 one unique certification scheme should see the daylight applicable in France ánd abroad.

Why should the French Building Industry be concerned about the delay ?

BREEAM is now quickly rolled out over Europe. More and more countries sign up. The number of assessors, certified and registered buildings is largely outnumbering the French HQE standard. Multinational companies ánd International Public Bodies develop Sustainable Purchase Rules on a rapid scale, including Sustainable Buildings.

Meanwhile, the process of the ‘alignment’ of CSTB and BRE seems to be delayed. It remains unclear why. May it be a question of ‘ not invented here’, may it be an English/French rivalry?  In any case : the three step process is unlikely to move foreward without any pressure from the private sector.

It is just a question of time before the Building RFPs of Multinationals and European Union Institutions will contain BREEAM certification criteria. If the French Building Industry wants to keep up their international role, they should make sure to be properly informed and trained on the BREEAM scheme !

How could the process be brought back on track ?

First of all, French property developers should therefore increase their knowledge about this international standard as quickly as possible. For their own proper commercial benefit it would be necessary to gain knowledge about this international certification method, share information and experiences with industry peers abroad, for instance the International Sustainabilty Alliance. See also the article about the Dutch property developer and ISA founding member Redevco.

Secondly the large French Property Developers (such as Bouygues Immobilier, BNP Immobilier, Eiffage and Vinci) should work together in with the CSTB and Certivéa to adapt the BREEAM International scheme to the national French characteristics. Why not creating a ‘French Green Building Council’ , like in the Northern European countries, a platform of public and private representatives ? It would be for the benefit of international transparence,  the environment and the international market position of the French building industry.

Sources : 1. ‘ Rapprochement des certifications environnementales HQE et Breeam’, Isabelle Duffaure-Gaillais, 22/06/2009 ; 2. ‘ Frequently Asked Questions Alignment BREEAM – HQE ’, February 2010 : ; 3.  BREEAM International Presentation Slides 2009. ; 4. ‘International Sustainability Alliance to drive international sustainability standards’ ; 5. ‘Build today, preserving for tomorrow, brochure of Certivea’ 2009.


Grenelle : Priorities on Transport and New Buildings

What are the key objectives of the‘Grenelle d’Environment‘ ? It contains key directions for new laws and subventions for the building construction, public transport, renewable energy, biodiversity and agriculture.The current version focusses on environmental issues and less on social aspects.

Setting the example. By new environmental purchase criteria the French state want to set the example. CO2 emission of cars can’t be above 130 CO2/km as of 2009, paper should be recycled or FSC approved as of 2010 (1).

Stimulating Low Energy Buildings. Half of France total energy use and a quarter of the countries greenhouse gas emissions are caused by buildings (2). The average French building energy consumption is very high (240 kWh/m2/year) compared to Northern European houses (around 100), due to poor isolation and energy loss. As great improvements are possible in this sector, the French governments has chosen it as its first priority for action. As of 2012, Borloo and Sarkozy demand that new buildings to be ‘BCS’ (‘Batiment Basse Consomption’). And as of 2020, they should be be ‘energy-positive’, calles  BEPOS (Batiment a Energi Positive) . To achieve the BCS or better, the BEPOS standard, new insulation, better ventilation and renewable energy techniques are encouraged, such as photovoltaic roof panels. Remarkable is that the Grenelle presents no subventions for better a better insulation of current buildings where huge improvements can be made.


Solar roof panels to decrease energy use of new houses.

18,5 Billion Euro Investments in Public Transport. Transport is the second sector of priority, also counting for a . Government Sarkozy is injecting no less than 2,5 billion euro in urban transport (tramway, metro, bus) and 16 billion in new fast train railways between the main cities.  Travel by car and by aeroplane to the contrary, are discouraged. For instance, aeroplane manufacturers are requested to develop new planes that use 50% less carburant by 2020 (by the way, in line with technical expectations ..).

Carbon Tax to Discourage Car Use. A highly political sensitive and mediatised measure is the ‘Taxe Carbone’, a new carbon tax for gas and petrol. The goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions by discouraging car use. Experts estimated a level for 2010 of 45 euro per tons CO2 equivalent to be sufficient to change behaviour (2). Meanwhile the level has been lowered by Sarkozy to 17 euro per ton CO2 equivalent (‘because of the difficult economic times’) which makes the tax still low compared to other European countries (3). Many people question if the low tax level (4 eurocents per liter petrol) will be now be sufficient to reduce car use.  3 out of 4 French people are against the Tax in september 2009 (4). People state that ‘they are already making sufficient efforts to reduce their energy consumption’ (enterprises however should improve theirs ! ).

taxe carbone

Carbon Tax in European countries

The controversy around the Carbon Tax in France  illustrates that the awareness on sustainable issues may be rising, if people asked to pay a price or change their behaviour they seem to be much less committed.

Sources :  1. 2. Derogations et modulations sont les ennemis mortels de la taxe carbone, interview with economist Olivier Godard in Les Echos,  10/09/2009;  3. Le projet de taxe carbone en 2 mots’ 02/08/09.; 4. Les deux tiers des Français rejettent la taxe carbone’ Le Figaro, 03/09/09,  following a poll of TNS Sofres/Logica