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Sustainable Building Certifications: a comparative guide

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There are currently hundreds of sustainability certifications for the built environment and the number is set to rise as the focus on certifying buildings continues to increase. This book provides a global overview of sustainable building certifications and an in-depth description, analysis and comparison of ten certification schemes based on their focus and strategic relevance to stakeholders in the built environment.

The ten certifications selected for analysis and comparison are Active House, BREEAM, DGNB, Green Star, HQE, LEED, Living Building Challenge, Miljöbyggnad, Nordic Swan and WELL.

They have been chosen due to their relevance for the Danish construction industry.

Each of these ten certifications is presented with a description that provides insight into the history and scope of the certification as well as a guide to the certification process. Case studies illustrate the practical value of the certifications.

Collectively, the case studies show that the focus on sustainable building certification is only increasing, that the market is diversifying, and that some projects therefore can benefit from using multiple certifications in conjunction to strengthen their specific sustainability agenda.


The comparative analysis gives an overview of the ten building certification systems based on their environmental, economic and social dimensions, which are further sub-divided into 13 aspects. The certifications generally rely most heavily on the environmental dimension, largely represented by the resources aspect. The social dimension follows closely after environmental, with a focus on the health aspect, where indoor climate and comfort plays a large part. The economic dimension is generally less represented in all certifications except for DGNB, although it could be argued that economic aspects follow as consequences of many of the other aspects within the social and environmental dimensions.

The comparison of the certifications shows variation in focus. A primary focus on the environmental dimension can be seen in Active House, BREEAM, Green Star, LEED, Miljöbyggnad and Nordic Swan, while a primary focus on the social dimension is seen in HQE, Living Building Challenge and WELL, indeed WELL is almost entirely focused on social aspects. DGNB is distinguished by focusing almost equally on the three sustainability dimensions: social, environmental and economic.


Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications is a collaboration between the Danish Building Research Institute – SBi, and the innovation company of 3XN Architects – GXN.


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