Which green building certification scheme for Mauritius?

Application of Green Building Certification Schemes in Mauritius – Challenges and Prospects.

Introduction: green building certification

The certification of the green attributes of a project building and site through a third-party validation is increasingly being sought as an objective market recognition of sustainability achievement. The green building certification process can be used to set and champion sustainability objectives as per the client’s goals and to formulate the framework through which the various project phases will be streamlined to secure desired outcomes. Furthermore, green building certification brings a powerful marketing tool to showcase stewardship for sustainable development, which in context of Mauritius relates to supporting government’s sustainable development agenda.

A review of green building certification schemes

Several green building rating systems have been devised around the world in response to market needs and climate specificity. The three most common ones are BREEAM [1], LEED [2] and Green Star [3], which originate from UK, US and Australia respectively. The first green building rating system was BREEAM launched in 1990 by BRE [4], LEED was first launched in 1998 by USGBC [5] and Green Star in 2003 by GBCA [6]. LEED, BREEAM and Green Star have been customised to address different building types, e.g. office, school, healthcare and residential buildings, and also customised for locations outside of the parent countries, e.g. BREEAM has launched its BREEAM International rating system and LEED has been applied in the Middle East to create Estidama [7] and LEED-India [8] has been custom-made for India. Green Star has also seen its application outside of Australia as Green Star SA [9] in South Africa.

In terms of market recognition, LEED and BREEAM have enjoyed the most popularity, with LEED being the currently fastest growing green building rating system worldwide, although BREEAM has the largest number of projects certified, the majority of which is in the UK. Publications to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the different green building rating systems have been found in literature. Sleeuw [10] in his publication to compare LEED and BREEAM reports on their relative strengths and weaknesses, with BREEAM lauded for its carbon footprinting, compulsory sub-metering, credit for life-cycle cost analysis, its Green Book Live for sustainable material selection and a more rigorous coverage of public transportation, whereas the strengths of LEED with respect to BREEAM are reported to be greater transparency, more accessible resources, post-occupancy evaluation of the project, consideration for heat island effect, thermal comfort validation by surveying occupants, a more appropriate treatment of indoor air quality and irrigation requirements.

A clear demarcation exists between the way the LEED and BREEAM certification processes takes place. For LEED, the assessment of the project is performed by the certifying body itself, namely the USGBC, whereas for BREEAM, the assessment is carried out by trained and licensed assessors. The compilation of the documentation can be done by the design team, although the involvement of accredited professionals (AP) for any of the rating systems (LEED, BREEAM and Green Star) is encouraged to streamline the process, which is rewarded by the award of points/credits.

A central component of green building rating system is the energy category, in which energy performance assessment is required for LEED, BREEAM and Green Star. In this respect, a marked difference has been reported by Roderick et al. [11] from the IES firm [12] on the energy calculation proposed by Green Star, as compared to those used for LEED and BREEAM. Specifically, for the project building studied by Roderick et al., only two points out of a maximum of fifteen is scored in BREEAM, no points is scored in LEED as the project fails to cross the minimum energy performance required whereas 11 out of 20 points are scored for Green Star, which shows that the rigorous energy analysis proposed by LEED and BREEAM are comparable, both using the concept of a reference building to assess performance of the actual building whereas Green Star uses absolute carbon emission values.

Applying LEED, BREEAM and Green Star in Mauritius

The Green Star rating system has been customised for South Africa but this in no way means it is either the only rating system that can be applied for Mauritius (being in the African continent) or the most appropriate one for us. Indeed, as described earlier, LEED has been customised for the Middle East and India, which have more stringent summer conditions than Mauritius. Moreover, Prodesign has applied the LEED for New Construction rating system till the design review phase of the Hall of Residence of the University of Mauritius at Reduit and is in the process of documenting the pre-requisites and credits for the construction review of the AML New Corporate Office project at Plaisance, showing that there is no issue in applying LEED in Mauritius. This has been made possible by the flexibility of LEED to adapt to various climatic conditions and is the predominant reason for its becoming the fastest growing green building certification scheme worldwide. Its customisation for the Mauritian context through the various projects we have worked on is due to the effective collaboration and dialogue undertaken with USGBC to understand the local context and customise the credits accordingly.

In terms of market recognition, LEED and BREEAM are currently unrivalled with respect to the other green building rating system and enjoy higher international recognition, which is and will continue to become more important in the rapid pace of globalisation. The delocalisation of responsibility for assessing the various components of BREEAM to award certification means that the project team has to find a BREEAM assessor and agree a professional fee with the latter, whereas there is no such issue with LEED as direct contact is made with USGBC by the project administrator and the fee structure is pre-defined. This can be of an issue in the local context as the pool of BREEAM assessors may not be extensive enough at the moment to ensure a competitive package, and recruiting a BREEAM assessor from abroad may be cost prohibitive. Moreover, the energy analysis component of BREEAM requires the energy modelling team to be either licensed by BRE or be a specialist with a given number of years of experience, which again can lead to a high cost to the project, given the current shortage or absence of compliant energy modelling experts in Mauritius.

On the other hand, USGBC works with the project team for reviewing and assessing the various credits, including the energy modelling credit. We have benefitted from this collaborative effort, and from our experience in the local projects registered for LEED, we have developed the necessary competence to carry out dynamic energy modelling according to LEED requirements. This means that the whole expertise needed for the green building certification process for LEED is present within the project team, which helps to cut cost and streamline the documentation of the credits.

We aim to develop similar competence to offer full green building design and certification expertise at Prodesign for BREEAM as well and we are currently working in this direction. But why did we start with LEED? Well, we opted to start with LEED first due to its proven adaptability in various climate zones, including those similar to Mauritius, and importantly, the responsibility taken by USGBC to assess and review the documents, which meant we had to develop a single core competence for carrying dynamic energy modelling to be able to offer the whole breadth of green building services as we were already well-versed in the other green aspects of the rating system. On the other hand, for BREEAM, we have to develop core competence in energy modelling as well as green building assessment, as BRE does not carry out assessment itself. We are in the process of developing the required competence to offer complete in-house BREEAM certification services to our client to offer the option to choose between two of the leading green building certification schemes. Green building design and certification can be prohibitive to projects due to high costs involved, mainly due to the need to hire professionals from outside the project team; our goal is to offer the full package in-house to render green building design and certification cost effective, and thus accessible to clients.

To conclude, in the current local context, with Mauritius at the very beginning of its sustainability journey, we believe LEED offers the flexibility and framework for easing a successful and rigorous application of green principles, while offering high, if not unparalleled, level of market recognition. The pros and cons of LEED, BREEAM and Green Star rating systems discussed in this report are summarised in the table below.

Attributes LEED BREEAM Green Star
Market recognition High High Medium
Energy assessment rigour High High Medium
Proven flexibility High Medium Low
Ease of application in Mauritius High Medium Medium

Table 1: Comparison of attributes of LEED, BREEAM and Green Star