The Oaks, a 1.3 million square foot shopping mall located in Thousand Oaks, California, owned by Macerich is the first project achieve certification under the new BREEAM In-Use program for existing buildings.

Macerich, a leading owner, operator and developer of major retail real estate with a portfolio of over 50 shopping malls, also earned the #1 GRESB ranking in the North America Retail Sector in 2016 for the second consecutive year.

The Oaks was built in 1978, renovated in 1993 and again in 2007. The shopping mall has 100% LED lighting. 20% of the building’s energy consumption comes from photovoltaic panels on the roof. The Oaks is connected to the public transport network, providing customers with a range of sustainable transport alternatives. And the Oaks has particularly water efficient features, including waterless urinals, low flow taps and fixtures.

The Oak’s management describes that other U.S. based green building “assessment tools do not offer in place shopping center ratings, but that the BREEAM In-Use program was robust and flexible enough to fit The Oaks’ parameters while also providing Macerich with immediate operational efficiencies that fully support its corporate goals.”

BREEAM USA is the new joint venture between BRE and BuildingWise, the well respected U.S. based LEED certification consultancy headed by Barry Giles. Barry is now the CEO of BREEAM USA. For those who do not know, Barry is one of the icons of the green building industrial complex. I reported on a conversation we had in a blog post last year, BREEAM for Existing Buildings: The British are Coming.

BRE Global Ltd. is the 97 year old Great Britain based world’s leading authority on all aspects of the built environment (.. it all started with fire testing for homes), with over 2,261,237 BREEAM registered buildings across 78 countries in its sustainability assessment method.

While not in direct competition, it is useful to note that the 1st version of LEED in 1998 was a knockoff of the 1990 edition of BREEAM.

As Jerry Yudelson described in a blog post last week, “In 2016, LEED O+M/EBOM certified less than 700 projects, representing only a little more than 0.01% (that’s not a typo!) of the 5.8 million existing buildings in the US. That’s one in 10,000 buildings certified.”

Barry regularly points out that “LEED has done a stunning job with new construction, .. but existing buildings have been a difficult thing.” He explains that the prerequisites and tough requirements for an EBOM certification, including the LEED v4 prerequisite of an Energy Star score of 75, keep the vast majority of 5.8 million existing buildings in the U.S. out of the USGBC program.

Significantly, BREEAM In-Use does not have prerequisites and does not require anyone run a separate energy model. This is huge today and will become even more significant as the Federal government “closes out” the government program Energy Star (i.e., while components of Energy Star may be transferred to the private sector), such will be a blow to LEED projects that rely on the government program.

Born in part out of the belief that the “we are not putting our effort in the huge sector of the market that is not already efficient,” Barry’s new effort is also to focus on all those other buildings that “cannot get into the program,” like existing shopping malls.

The BREEAM USA Technical Manual was just published last August and is available free of charge. The BREEAM In-Use program only launched in the U.S. on October 1st and while the first project is now certified there are others in the cue. Barry notes, “but we are not making a race of it. Our biggest goal is not to get buildings certified.” Barry wants owners to see the benefits of greening existing buildings.

The Technical Manual and underlying algorithm are academic, based on a peer reviewed paper process controlled by the trust that owns BRE, not simply the consensus of some coterie.

There are 200 questions in the online tool within nine categories including Energy, Water, Transport, Management, Waste, Pollution, Health and Well Being, Land Use and Ecology, and Materials to create a score. Once completed, the BREEAM In-Use assessment is automatically scored and the building is given an unverified rating based on the final score: Acceptable, Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent and Outstanding.

BREEAM In-Use is open to all existing commercial buildings of any size, age and in any condition. But currently, the system does not apply to multi family residential buildings.

A January 2017 study, On the Value of Environmental Certification in the Commercial Real Estate Market, documents that existing certified green buildings, on average, have higher rental, occupancy and pricing levels.

The overarching aim is that “BREEAM In-Use democratizes the entry point” for existing commercial buildings to engage in a program for improved performance, financial and otherwise. “There are a lot of Class B and C buildings out there and we could help them make changes and save money. The byproduct is we will reduce carbon footprint.” And that is the goal.