Scheme overview | Sustainable building

25:e mar. 2015

DGNB, LEED, BREEAM, AKTIVHAUS and PASSIVHAUS. What are the differences between the various certification schemes? Do we need so many?

Have it all explained by and hear the views of civil engineer and associate professor Tine Steen Larsen PhD from Aalborg University in Denmark. She is associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Science at Aalborg University in Denmark, and closely monitors the development of the various certification schemes.

Troldtekt Vestas

Given the massive focus on sustainability in construction in the past decade, a number of international certifications have emerged. According to Tine Steen Larsen, it is the consultants’ duty to be so familiar with the various schemes that they can point their clients in the right direction.

“Of course we do not need 30 different certifications within sustainability but I think it is good to have schemes which vary in scope. Hopefully, it will encourage more people to build sustainably and it is always better that some aspects of a new building are sustainable than none at all,” she says.

Focus determines certification

Tine Steen Larsen believes that the client’s focus and ambition should determine which certification is relevant for a particular project.

“If the idea is ‘only’ to save energy, then building a passive house is fine. However, if the total cost of ownership is also a factor, then it is necessary to choose a sustainability certification scheme such as DGNB which covers social, environmental and economic sustainability, she explains. 

“In my experience, consultants are well acquainted with the different schemes. However, many clients are too cautious and prefer to do what they always have done – perhaps because they have heard stories that certification is expensive. I think that some of the prices which I have heard mentioned have been wildly exaggerated. The cost of certification is only a fraction of the total project price and is a cost which should more than pay for itself when you think of the increased quality achieved,” says Tine Steen Larsen. 

Key schemes

There are a handful of certifications which consultants and clients should definitely have on their radar. Here are five of the most important: 


The DGNB system covers all key aspects of sustainable Building - environmental, economic, socio-cultural and functional as well as technology, processes and site. The first four quality sections carry equal weight in the assessment. This means that the DGNB system is the only system that gives as much importance to the economic aspect of sustainable building as it does to ecological criteria.

The DGNB certification system was launched in Germany in 2008.


LEED, which was introduced in 1998, is the American sustainability certification scheme for buildings. Used in more than 40 countries, it is the most widespread certification scheme. Among other things, this can be explained by the fact that it does not require special training to certify and register using the LEED manual, which is sold to all interested parties.

LEED uses the same standard in all countries and is therefore often used by companies with interests in several countries and by international contractors.


BREEAM is the British standard and was launched in 1990. Today, BREEAM is used in more than 50 countries in either an international version or as a country-specific standard. Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany have country versions of BREEAM.

Both LEED and BREEAM primarily focus on the environment and indoor climate and not on the total cost of ownership like DGNB.


Passive houses were first developed in Germany in 1990. A passive house has very low energy consumption for space heating and a good indoor climate. 

“The Passivhaus scheme is based on some very fine principles which are important to include in other certification schemes. However, a passive house does not fall within the category of sustainable buildings as its focus on energy savings is too narrow,” explains Tine Steen Larsen.


An active house is, in principle, a passive house equipped with active systems that produce more energy than the house consumes. For example, these may be solar cells, solar panels and heat pumps. In addition, the sustainability of the materials used in the building’s construction are included in an overall assessment of the building.

Read more about Troldtekt's contribution to LEED, DGNB & BREEAM.