Performance setting and measurement for sustainable commercial buildings

25 Sep 2007
Greg Foliente and Selwyn Tucker
Your Building

Authoring team for the foundation article
Lead authors:
Greg Foliente, Selwyn Tucker, Seongwon Seo, Murray Hall and Peter Boxhall
Contributors: Matthew Clark, Robin Mellon and Nils Larsson






Performance assessment of a building or facility may be undertaken at different stages of its life cycle: at planning and design, during construction, at commissioning, and during occupancy or use. The type and extent of assessment - and the nature and content of the assessment report - will depend on the primary purpose of the assessment and for whom it has been conducted.

This article presents the different contexts in which an assessment can be made, provides an overview of a general process for undertaking assessment, and identifies selected tools and methods that can be used for environmental performance assessment, including a comparative guide for selecting the tool(s) appropriate for a building or facility at various stages of its life cycle. A series of tables is presented as a starting point for quick comparisons of selected tools to aid decision making.

Definitions and basic concepts

Performance assessment of a building or facility may be undertaken at different stages of its life cycle: at planning and design, during construction, at commissioning, and during occupancy or use. The type and extent of assessment - and the nature and content of the assessment report - will depend on the primary purpose of the assessment and for whom it has been conducted. Based on the timing of the assessment, it may be a pre-commissioning assessment or an in-service assessment.

Based on scope, it may be a single-attribute assessment or an extensive assessment (i.e. across a range of environmental or sustainability performance attributes). Based on the nature of input data into the assessment tool or method, it may be an indirect assessment or an assessment based on direct measurements. Based on the type of certification desired, it may be a 'standard' assessment or a customised assessment.

Sometimes, an assessment is undertaken to check if the key measures (or indicators) of performance meet the performance targets set beforehand.

In other cases, an assessment is done to obtain a snapshot of performance to which current and future facility improvement works can be compared. Alternatively, the objective may be to compare a particular building's performance - intended or in service - to others of similar type and/or size (i.e. benchmarking). Actual in-service performance matters most because impacts and consequences or benefits are real, it serves to validate (or not) design or refurbishment intent, and it contributes to knowledge and could improve future practice.

In general, environmental assessment should be considered as part of, or in conjunction with, a broader building performance assessment, since there are complex interactions and inter-dependencies between the different parts or elements of the building.

Furthermore, a decision to enhance one particular performance attribute (e.g. choosing a particular material to reduce indoor air emissions) may have adverse impact(s) on another (e.g. increasing the building 'fire load'). Since many building performance requirements compete with other requirements, a total performance approach (or whole systems thinking) is required in setting requirements, design and construction, and performance assessment and management.

There are a number of key terms used in this article and their definitions are as below.

Facility: Facility refers to a completed or existing building, especially where it supports or facilitates a business or service function.

Ecological footprint or 'footprint': This is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using prevailing technology and resource management practices.

Eco-indicator: An eco-indicator is a measure of the environmental impacts of manufacturing products or providing services, as evaluated according to the widely accepted life cycle assessment (LCA) procedure.

Performance approach or performance concept: This refers to the practice of thinking and working in terms of 'ends', rather than 'means'. It is about describing what the building is expected to do, and not prescribing how it is to be realised.

Performance assessment or performance evaluation: This refers to the process of assessing or evaluating the performance of the whole building or its component parts, according to a set of performance targets, criteria or requirements.

Performance indicators: Performance indicators are a set of measures that reflect the environmental or sustainable credentials or performance of a building. It should be noted that, in research literature, a distinction is made between environmental or 'green' assessment and 'sustainable' assessment; the latter includes the indicators covered in the former and extends its scope to include social, economic and other indicators.

Performance requirements or criteria: This is an expression or statement of the level of performance an indicator is required to achieve. It includes two elements: (a) a performance indicator, and (b) an acceptable value or range of values and grades (e.g. 1-star to 5-stars). Performance requirements or criteria may be quantitative or qualitative, or mixed. 

Rationale and benefits

  • Building-specific benefits
  • General industry benefits

The building and property industry has a significant direct impact on the environment. Buildings or facilities should exist to provide clean, safe and healthy environments in which the occupants can live, work and enjoy themselves; however, this is not always the case.

Sir Winston Churchill (1943) said: 'We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us'. Unfortunately, we do not really know how our buildings actually perform or their actual impact on people and their activities or business, and on the environment.

In addition, past mistakes in design and choice of materials or technologies tend to be repeated in new buildings, leading to costly consequences and/or adverse impacts on people, businesses and the environment. These problems will continue unless we undertake appropriate performance assessment in any or all stages of the facility life cycle, and then learn from these assessments and seek continuous improvement.

Performance assessment benefits the stakeholders in the specific building that is assessed, as well as the building and property industry in general.

Building-specific benefits

An alternative term to 'performance assessment' is 'performance evaluation'. Presier and Vischer (2005) note that the term 'evaluation' contains the word 'value'. Indeed, validation (and certification) that a building performs to a level better than the rest of the industry brings with it many benefits to building owners, facility managers and tenants. These benefits include:

  • recognition and prestige
  • operational savings (e.g. in water and energy use)
  • improved social interactions, worker well-being and productivity.

A study of the costs and benefits of green buildings in California (Kats, 2003) identified and quantified the economic benefits of buildings that incorporated concepts and technologies for improved environmental performance. Furthermore, when responsible environmental performance is validated, the companies involved can improve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) status, and gain significant market advantage associated with 'doing well by doing good' (Hampton, 2004), a concept that is also known as 'virtuous circles' (Hampton, 2004; Roaf, 2005).

In the UK, an important conclusion from the Post-Occupancy Review of Buildings and their Engineering (Probe) effort - which involved undertaking post-occupancy evaluations (POE) of buildings from 1995 through interviews, surveys (including energy use surveys) and reviews of technical information - was that 'feedback from building users could help add value without increasing cost, by linking means (the constructed facility) more closely to client's ends' (Bordass & Leaman, 2005).

Building-specific performance assessment also helps owners and facility managers to:

  • validate how well actual performance compares with the original goals or targets, where they have been specified and documented (e.g. project brief)
  • compare a particular building's performance - intended or in service - to others of similar type and/or size (i.e. benchmarking)
  • identify areas of improvement for the next round of funding or upgrades
  • make informed decisions about the facility (e.g. to develop appropriate investment and management strategies and actions).

Feedback on the actual performance of a building or facility in service will help architects, engineers and contractors to improve their knowledge and practice of designing and constructing future buildings.

In the planning and design stages, the use of performance assessment methods or tools:

  • serves as a common language platform for discussing and understanding what stakeholders mean by a 'green' or 'sustainable' building (Cole, 2005)
  • guides design and construction professionals about the most (or more) important goals and focuses them on delivering these goals
  • facilitates integration of knowledge and expertise of people from different disciplines (including fostering collaborative learning) and, in some cases, the integration of project planning and delivery processes (Kaatz et al., 2006).

Building tenants and users who understand both the intended and actual performance of the facility they are in usually also tend to behave and act appropriately - they will get the most out of the facility and feel better about their work environment, and the building will perform in a more efficient manner.

General industry benefits

When more buildings have gone through performance assessment, the individual building-specific benefits identified above are multiplied accordingly. Some of these benefits include:

  • improving quality and performance of the overall building stock
  • wider economic benefits to building owners and tenants
  • better information on performance indicators and benchmarks (with many different building types in various locations in a database, performance benchmarks can be differentiated for building types)
  • continuously improving knowledge and practice for all stakeholders, especially architects, engineers and builders.

The last two points pertain to improving technical information and know-how. These are very important ingredients that support the whole-of-life applications of the performance approach in the delivery and management of high-performance facilities. The performance approach has been identified as a key pathway to achieving the building and property industry's future vision (Foliente et al., 2005a).

Environmental performance assessment and rating tools seem to be contributing to industry and market transformation towards innovation and more sustainable built environments in many parts of the world (Cole 2005, 2006). 

Key considerations

  • Facility life cycle
  • Performance goals, criteria and targets
  • Types of environmental performance assessment

Performance assessment of a building or facility is not a new concept; it is as old as the formal engineering design of buildings. What is more recent is expanding or extending performance assessment to include environmental, economic and social factors.

Performance assessment may be undertaken at different stages of a facility's life cycle: at planning and design, during construction, at commissioning, and during occupancy or use. The type, purpose and nature of assessment - and the key players involved - will be different at different stages of the facility's life cycle. This section lays out important considerations that need to be understood before embarking on planning and implementing a performance assessment scheme.

Facility life cycle

Over its life, a constructed facility goes through a number of stages (which may repeat if the facility is refurbished - see figure below). Performance assessment objectives and key participants differ during each stage, as follows:

  • Planning: client, designer and regulator
  • Design: client, designer, builder, regulator and user
  • Construction: client and builder
  • Operation: client, facility manager and user
  • Refurbishment: client, user, designer and builder

(The term 'client' is used here broadly to include owners, investors and their specialist consultants; 'designer' includes architects and engineers; 'builder' includes sub-contractors employed in the building process and may extend to building suppliers; and 'user' includes tenants and regular visitors.)

The procurement or contractual model for a project has a significant influence on the participants for each stage and can therefore lead to a casting slightly or radically different to that outlined above.

Facility life cycle stagesPerformance figure 1












The planning and design stages are where the future of the facility is determined. During project programming or briefing, the building performance goals and targets are established (often only implicitly, but doing this more explicitly is preferred). Decisions made during these stages are often very expensive to change once construction is under way. It should be noted that serious assessment of design options is standard practice in engineering design (e.g. for structural and fire safety), and the rigour of these assessments increases in major or important projects.

Systematic assessment of performance needs to expand to other building performance attributes, considering the interactions and inter-dependencies of various design elements within a building. Thus, predicting future performance is essential at the planning and design stages if the facility is going to be sustainable, practical and economic over its lifetime. Lifetime may be determined by technical/functional performance, or by economic performance, based on the quality of, and demand for, the characteristics of the facility.

Between the construction phase and the operation phase is handover and commissioning. According to the American Building Commissioning Association (1999), the purpose of commissioning is 'to provide documented confirmation that building systems function in compliance with criteria set forth in the project documents to satisfy the owner's operational needs'. Thus, this is a natural point for a performance assessment, especially when the level of payment to the designers and builders as agreed in the project contract depends on a certain building performance level being achieved on completion and as a condition for handover.

Multiple and different kinds of assessment may be undertaken during building occupancy and operation. One scheme that has been practiced since the 1960s is known as post-occupancy evaluation (POE). Engineering safety evaluation of critical facilities is also often undertaken after a major event such as an earthquake or fire. Maintenance and performance testing of essential services, such as stairwell pressurisation, are required on a routine basis.

Environmental performance evaluation of buildings in service (and during occupancy) establishes actual performance levels. On the basis of any of these assessments, and depending on the facility requirements of owners and tenants, a refurbishment/re-use decision may be reached. In this case, the building cycle then returns to planning, followed by design and so on (see figure titled Facility life cycle stages above).

Performance goals, criteria and targets

Evaluating design and solution options at
various stages of the facility life cycle
Source: Foliente et al., 2005bPerformance figure 2







The left figure, which shows the building process in linear form, demonstrates the process and timing of performance assessment. During the design and building phase, the assessment of various design and construction options ('solution space') is done, using 'virtual tools' or methods that predict future performance (see bottom loop arrows in the figure above). Performance assessment during occupancy and building operation may be undertaken at any time, and may lead to a refurbishment/re-use decision.

But in all cases, a key assumption is the availability or knowledge of building performance goals, targets or requirements that will form the basis for assessment. It is very important to determine whether these goals and requirements have been defined and documented in the project brief.

The set (or sub-set) of performance requirements that needs to be identified depends on the purpose and nature of assessment. Ideally, the starting point is a holistic view of performance space as illustrated in the first figure below (Framework and perspectives for performance assessment). This shows a three-dimensional view of the components of performance assessment. The life cycle stages are along the third (time) axis, where requirements change according to the life cycle stage of the building and where, as noted earlier, those interested in building performance also change over time.

Framework and perspectives for performance assessment
(a) Performance space (left figure)      (b) Different levels of detail for describing performance targets (right figure)
Source: Foliente et al., 2005a

Performance figure 3

The vertical axis reflects the need to consider the place of the building in the neighbourhood and region (going upwards), and the breakdown of a building into its component parts (going downwards).

The horizontal axis shows the differing attributes for which performance assessment is required; from the typical physical/technical and functional attributes, through to the environmental, economic and social aspects of a building. A distinction is being made in technical literature between (a) 'green' building assessment, which considers only certain environmental attributes, and (b) 'sustainable' building assessment, which includes indicators considered in the green building assessment but extends its scope to social, economic and other indicators (Cole et al., 2000; Kaatz et al., 2006).

With this increasing aggregation and disaggregation of performance assessment to suit varying needs, there is now a wide range of indicators that should readily scale as required from a component focus to the whole building and beyond - such as those collected in the European indicators database project CRISP (2003) ( In some cases, the range of measures of individual performance attributes is aggregated into a single measure (e.g. a star-rating or eco-points).

Performance assessment of buildings has expanded to include the environmental context of a building at local, regional and global levels (Preiser & Vischer, 2005). While the main focus has been on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, there are other factors (such as resource consumption and depletion, toxic emissions to the environment, and recycling) to be taken into account at every stage of the life cycle of a building.

Many of these factors would be considered by the designer or facility in the normal flow of business, but the relative importance changes as more emphasis is put on the environment and service life, with aggregation over a whole life (e.g. operating energy) being of similar magnitude to the energy required to manufacture and construct the facility.

In addition, interest in people's health and worker productivity - as affected by building design, features and details - has been steadily increasing and becoming a key focus in developing the sustainability business case (Kats, 2003). These intangible factors are, however, not easy to measure, being further complicated by the heterogeneous nature of buildings.

To address different stakeholder views, understanding and interests, and to aid communication, the description of a performance goal or requirement may be high-level (e.g. Level 1 in right figure titled Framework and perspectives for performance assessment) for senior decision-makers or detailed (Level x) for technical professionals involved at the operational level. The choice of a performance assessment method should depend on the purpose of assessment (including what and for whom it is for), and the scope and level of description of the goals or targets.

A 'performance criteria' has two basic components: (a) a performance indicator (e.g. operating energy), and (b) an accepted level or value (e.g. in KJ/month per m2 or KJ/month per person or KJ/month per m2 per person) or an identified industry benchmark. A performance indicator is not simply a piece of information or statistic, but implies comparison (Tucker & Taylor, 1990); it may be specified as higher or lower than a given value (e.g. operating energy - 100 kJ per m2 per person). A performance requirement may be stated in either quantitative or qualitative terms (Beller et al., 2002). The set of requirements should satisfy, at the minimum, regulatory and legislative requirements, and will also include project-specific requirements.

In some assessments, the choice of a specific method and overall performance target (e.g. aiming for a 5-star Green Star rating) brings with it the performance targets for key performance indicators (or required scores for each attribute category) or an overall target score for the aggregated assessment. In other assessments, this may need to be obtained from previous documentation (e.g. a project brief), or established afresh through a workshop or consultation with the client and other stakeholders.

Types of environmental performance assessment

There are a number of ways to classify environmental performance assessment methods for buildings. The International Energy Agency Annex 31 (IEA, 2004) presents a typology for energy assessment tools that may be applied to general environmental performance assessment tools. Deakin et al. (2002), Luetskendorf and Lorenz (2006), and Hyde et al. (2007) also provide various classification systems for building environmental assessment tools.

Various ways of classifying different types of performance assessments are summarised in the table below (Classification and types of performance assessment). As shown in the right-hand column, the tools and methods that are currently available or used in practice can be used for different types of assessment, depending on the classification being considered.

Classification and types of performance assessmentPerformance table 1


Assessment process overview

Overview of a general process of
environmental performance assessment
Performance figure 4












A general process for undertaking performance assessment is illustrated in the left figure. There will be variations of this process, but the key elements are outlined below.

a. Establish the purpose(s) of environmental impact assessment of the building: This is usually the decision of the owner or client, and is sometimes decided with input from a specialist consultant. It is important to consider the context of the facility life cycle (see  above for figure titled Facility life cycle stages and figure titled Evaluating design and solution options at various stages of the facility life cycle). In a new building project, it is possible to outline a performance assessment plan for the whole life of the facility during the planning stage.

b. Choose the type(s) of assessment required for achieving the purpose(s) set earlier: This will include identifying the specific tool(s) or method(s) and the reporting requirements. The table above (Classification and types of performance assessment) and the tables in the Common tools and rating systems and Tool selection guide and comparisons sections below provide guidance in this matter. As noted earlier, the environmental assessment plan should be considered as part of a broader building performance assessment plan. Therefore, linkages with other performance assessment methods (i.e. non-environmental methods such as structural design, fire safety design etc.) should be identified at this stage. Where multiple or different assessments (at one point or at different points in the life cycle) are required, details of the next stages of assessment will need to be planned separately for each assessment type or method.

c. Choose assessor/evaluator and assemble participants: The choice of specific tools or methods for assessment will lead to a choice of assessor/evaluator. Some assessment tools, especially those that lead to third-party certification of environmental credentials, require certified assessors. In addition to this, the client should carefully consider the assessor's related qualifications and experience. The participants needed to undertake the assessment depend on for which stage of the life cycle it is being undertaken and the nature of the procurement or contractual model for the project (see above for the Facility life cycle section of this article for more information).

d. Identify the building performance goals/targets: This may be as straightforward as choosing an overall performance target associated with a specific assessment method (e.g. aiming for a 5-star Green Star rating). In this case, the required overall target score is an aggregation or sum of scores from key performance indicators (or from a number of attribute categories), and therefore can be distributed to these categories. Alternatively, this step may be a fairly involved process requiring a full workshop or charrette with participants to establish performance targets across a range of building performance attributes — for example, working through a comprehensive performance framework such as that implemented in EcoProp or PRISM (Huovila et al., 2004. For assessments undertaken at commissioning or during occupancy, the set of performance targets obtained from previous documentation (e.g. a project brief) could be the starting point.

e. Implement specific assessment methodology: The specific methodology selected in (b) is implemented, led or facilitated by an assessor, with the involvement of the stakeholders identified in (c), and in constant reference to the performance targets set in (d). This process may be iterative, until an appropriate solution is identified that meets the specified level of performance.

f. Finalise report and, if required, obtain certification: The report should be finalised in a form that meets the requirements and expectations set in steps (a) and (b). The procedure to obtain 'standard assessment' certification (see table above (Classification and types of performance assessment) is generally straightforward. Customised assessment reports and certification require clear communication of requirements before commencement of assessment, and a careful check afterwards.

g. File full documentation as part of whole-life performance requirements management program: The performance targets, assessment process and outputs (report and certification) should be kept or archived as part of a whole-life performance requirements management program for the facility. This has short-term and long-term applications in managing the facility.

h. Identify actions required (if any) for specific stakeholders: Where immediate decisions and/or actions are required, these should be clearly identified and passed on to appropriate personnel.

If or when the performance assessment undertaken does not assess in-service performance (during operation phase), a plan to validate the facility's performance in service is strongly recommended. Actual in-service performance matters most because:

  • the impacts and consequences or benefits are real
  • it serves to validate (or not) design or refurbishment intent
  • it contributes to knowledge and could improve future practice.  

Assessment methods and tools

  • Historical background
  • Common tools and rating systems
  • Tool selection guide and comparisons
  • Environmental performance attributes and indicators
    • Indoor environment quality (IEQ)
    • Use of materials and resources
    • Transport
    • Energy
    • Water
    • Environmental impacts

Although this article, in general, and this section, in particular, is about the environmental performance assessment of buildings, it should be emphasised that environmental assessment should be considered as part of a broader building performance assessment.

This is because there are complex interactions and inter-dependencies between the different parts or elements of a building, and the different performance requirements are usually in competition. Final decisions are often a trade-off between performance attributes, legal requirements (e.g. planning and building regulations, workplace safety requirements etc.), and project goals and stakeholder priorities. The different tools and methods of assessment should assist or facilitate this decision-making process.

This section covers environmental performance tools specifically developed for buildings. Other environmental impact measures that have been developed for other industries (but are also applicable to buildings) are described in the Other environmental impact measures section of this article (below).

Historical background

A significant addition to building performance assessment methods via engineering design and analysis was the introduction of POEs in the 1960s (Preiser & Vischer, 2005). The first environmental assessment tool, the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), was developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in the UK in 1990, and this became the forerunner of many popular assessment methods in a number of countries, including Australia's Green Star suite of tools.

Another approach, called the SBTool, was developed in Canada in 1996 as part of the Green Building Challenge (GBC) — now called Sustainable Building Challenge (SBC). SBTool provides a generic framework that allows local organisations to develop one or more rating systems that suit the region. The method places emphasis on the ability to have the system reflect the relative importance of performance issues in a particular region, and also to contain regionally relevant benchmarks.

Another approach is the life cycle assessment (LCA) method, which was developed and is widely used for the environmental impact assessment of products and services. The LCA procedures are part of the ISO series of ISO 14000 environmental management standards (ISO, 2007). A LCA procedure for buildings was has been developed in Japan in 1999 (Ikaga,AIJ 2005). The use of a single measure from a LCA process, called an eco-indicator, is discussed further in the Eco-indicator section of this article (below).

Common tools and rating systems

The wide range of environmental performance design and assessment tools provides building design professionals and other project stakeholders with a choice of tools to aid the planning, design, evaluation and management of environmentally friendly buildings and facilities. However, selecting the right tool for a project at the right stage of the process, and for a specific purpose (step (b) in figure above titled Framework and perspectives for performance assessment), can be a challenge. The number and variety of tools (with more likely to be developed) have the potential to confuse project stakeholders.

In this section, the focus is on some of the most common tools and rating systems that have been used, or can be used, in Australia. The table below (List of tools) presents a summary of selected environmental rating, design and assessment tools, based on the classifications presented in the table tiled Classification and types of performance assessment (above). The second table below Purpose of tools presents a brief statement of the primary purpose of each tool, the range or type of performance measures it considers, and whether a final single-value rating is given.

Both the NABERS and Green Star systems may be considered standard assessments, while BREEAM and SBTool are overseas methods that can be customised and used in Australia; both the BREEAM International and/or Bespoke versions are suitable for Australia, while SBTool has been used in the environmental performance assessment of many buildings around the world, including Australia (Cole, 2002). Finally, EcoSpecifier and Evergen Product Selection Guide are examples of product-based assessment tools.

When the tools have similar scope and capability, a comparison of the breadth and depth of their environmental assessment can be made (see Tool selection guide and comparisons below).

List of tools - Summary list of environmental rating, design and assessment toolsPerformance table 2


Purpose of tools - Primary purpose of and performance measures considered by various rating, design and assessment toolsPerformance Table 3

Tool selection guide and comparisons

Choosing a tool for performance assessment requires a consistent framework and a common basis for comparing the applicability and basic technical content of the environmental performance assessment tools commonly available in Australia for application to commercial buildings. This section, and the following sections, are based on discussions in Foliente et al. (2004).

The table below shows the applicability of the tools, based on building types and the primary object of assessment, which may be product level, part of a building (e.g. façade), whole building, a portfolio of buildings, or a whole development.

Applicability of tools (a) - Applicability of assessment tools in terms of object of assessmentPerformance table 4

The table below identifies the applicability of the tools according to the stage/phase in the life cycle of the building: planning, design, operation and maintenance, and end of life.

Applicability of tools (b) - Applicability of assessment tools in terms of life cycle of a buildingPerformance table 5

The table below identifies the coverage of the attributes of indoor environment quality, material/resource use, and transport available in each tool (these are briefly defined below in the Environmental performance attributes and indicators section of this article).

Comparison of tools (a) - Environmental performance attributes and comparison of breadth and depth of coverage of each tool - indoor environment quality, material/resource use, and transport
(Note that these should be read in conjunction with tables titled Purpose of tools, Applicability of tools (a) and Applicability of tools (b))Performance table 6

The table below identifies the coverage of the attributes of energy and water in each tool (these are briefly defined below in the Environmental performance attributes and indicators section of this article).

Comparison of tools (b) - Environmental performance attributes and comparison of breadth and depth of coverage of each tool — energy and water
(Note that these should be read in conjunction with tables titled Purpose of tools, Applicability of tools (a) and Applicability of tools (b))Performance table 7

The table below identifies the coverage of the environmental impact attributes by each tool (these are briefly defined below in the Environmental performance attributes and indicators section of this article).

Comparison of tools (c) - Environmental performance attributes and comparison of breadth and depth of coverage of each tool — environment impact
(Note that these should be read in conjunction with tables titled Purpose of tools, Applicability of tools (a) and Applicability of tools (b))Performance table 8

The relative depth of coverage for each performance indicator in the tables titled Comparison of tools (a), Comparison of tools (b) and Comparison of tools (c) is shown in each table by special marks; for example, a fully shaded circle under 'embodied energy' means that a tool provides more detailed treatment (or requires more data), assessment or analysis of this indicator than a tool with only a partially shaded circle.

Likewise, a tool with a partially shaded circle does more than a tool with only an open (unshaded) circle (i.e. an open circle means only a cursory or very basic treatment of that specific indicator). The marks were decided based on consistent criteria for comparable tools (i.e. they are relative to comparable tools), as identified in tables titled Purpose of tools, Applicability of tools (a) and Applicability of tools (b).

This series of tables provides:

  • guidance in selecting the tool(s) appropriate for a building project at various stages of development or the life cycle. They do not make a value judgment of the tools considered (one tool may be more appropriate for one project than for another)
  • a comprehensive set of considerations for quick comparison of scope and capability, from object of assessment to building types, life cycle stages and environmental performance indicators
  • relative comparisons of the extent and depth of the treatment of each environmental performance attribute
  • a starting point for quick comparisons of available tools to aid decision making.

Finally, it should be noted that:

  • the 'right' tool for one project at a specific stage of the process and for a specific purpose would not necessarily be the right one for another project
  • a project can use different tools for assessment at different stages of development, or different tools (with complementary focus) at the same stage of the facility's life cycle.

Environmental performance attributes and indicators

The attributes selected in the tables titled Comparison of tools (a), Comparison of tools (b) and Comparison of tools (c) are considered the key attributes of a wide range of possible indicators, and include the environmental impacts of the production of a building's components, construction, operation, repair and maintenance activities, refurbishment and demolition, as well as the environmental comfort and benefits to building occupants (e.g. CRISP, 2003; ISO, 2006). Many of the rating tools use a broad spectrum of categories for the sustainability index of a building, such as 'social, transport, water, alteration water, stormwater, energy, alteration energy, waste, indoor air quality, and materials' (Sustainability Advisory Council, 2002; Mesureur, 2002; Deroubaix, 2002). For other sets of sustainability indicators and benchmarks, see State of Minnesota (2000) and Roaf et al. (2004). As well as the environmental aspects of sustainability, economic and social concerns have been suggested for inclusion in sustainability criteria in building assessment (Cole et al., 2000).

Indoor environment quality (IEQ)

Indoor environment quality is recognised as a significant environmental and health problem. It refers to how well the indoor environment satisfies thermal requirements and respiratory requirements, prevents an unhealthy accumulation of pollutants, and allows for a sense of well-being (IAQWG, 2003).

Some indicators of indoor environment quality that are considered by assessment tools are listed below.

  • Thermal comfort: Thermal comfort includes control of room temperature and humidity, and air velocity.
  • Lighting: Indicators for lighting include the degree of visual access to the exterior, and daylight access, illumination levels, and control of indoor light levels.
  • Air quality: Air quality includes consideration of emissions from building materials and parts, the degree of pollutants control, the performance of ventilation, the operational plan to improve air quality (such as a monitoring system), and the air quality management plan.
  • Noise: Noise indicators for building assessment include noise level, sound insulation levels and sound absorption levels.

Use of materials and resources

Buildings are a major consumer of materials, as they consume minerals and other natural materials (Roodman & Lenssen, 1995).

Some of the indicators related to the use of materials and resources that are considered by assessment tools are listed below.

  • Consumption: Consumption refers to the amount of materials and components used during construction, operation and maintenance. Improvements in consumption focus on resource efficiency, which relates output (amount and performance attribute of a product) to required input (amount of raw materials needed to manufacture the finished product).
  • Recycling: To reduce both debris going to landfill and virgin material consumption, recycling of resources used in a building and re-use of materials or structures are considered. The indicators include the recycled or re-used amount and their contents.
  • Waste: Waste amount and waste reduction strategies for construction and demolition debris are considered.
  • Service life: The life cycle impact of products used in buildings includes their replacement over the life of the building. Even though a building product has a higher environmental impact in the initial stage (construction stage), it might have less relative impact over the life cycle of the building if it has a long life. The indicators of service life include specification of building materials, life expectancy of appliances and fit-out, durability of building materials, and maintenance/updating schemes.


The movement of people between buildings (or locations) can be a major contributor to energy consumption, global warming, and other air pollutants emissions. These environmental impacts of transport are different to those resulting from the building itself. Transport-related factors considered by assessment tools include access to public transport, availability of alternative transportation, and distance to other buildings.


Assessment of building energy must include the major elements of energy use, such as heating, cooling, lighting, process energy etc. From an environmental perspective, it is also valuable to know the source of the likely energy services to the building.

Energy-related indicators considered by assessment tools are listed below.

  • Embodied energy: Embodied energy refers to the quantity of energy required by all of the activities associated with a production process, including the proportions consumed in all direct and indirect supporting activities upstream, to the acquisition of natural resources.
  • Operational energy: Operational energy includes annual operational energy consumption and CO2 emissions arising from the operation of a building and its services.
  • Energy efficiency: Energy efficiency includes efficiency in all of the building systems (HVAC, ventilation, lighting, water heating, elevator etc.) and operational efficiency, such as an energy monitoring system. This criterion focuses on actions to improve efficiency.
  • Thermal load: Thermal load includes characteristics such as building orientation, the thermal load of windows, and the insulation level of exterior walls and the roof; all of which affect the absorption of solar radiation by the building.
  • Renewable energy: This refers to any renewable energy used in the building, including solar, wind, waste, or other renewable energy sources.


In Australia, buildings directly consume 14% of total water use (ABS, 2000). This proportion would increase if indirect water consumption, such as embodied water, was considered.

Water-related indicators considered by assessment tools are listed below.

  • Embodied water: Embodied water is the quantity of water removed from the water supply through losses due to process usage, evaporation, wastage and disposal of non-recycled water by all of the activities associated with a production process, including the relative proportions consumed in all activities upstream, to the acquisition of natural resources.
  • Operational water consumption: Operational water consumption is one of the main resource draws apart from energy. Indicators for operational water consumption include annual water consumption by building occupants, including potable water use for building equipment operation.
  • Water efficiency: This refers to water efficiency measures designed to reduce water demands for a building, including water-saving features, metering systems, water-saving targets, and water-efficient landscape irrigation systems.
  • Re-use: Re-use indicators includes water re-use amount and water re-use facilities for internal water usage within a building.

Environmental impacts

Environmental impacts, as measured in environmental impact indicators, are the impacts on human beings, ecosystems and man-made capital resulting from changes in environmental quality (SETAC, 1993; Seo et al., 2005).

Environmental impacts considered by assessment tools are listed below.

  • Global warming: The main cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels for energy. There are many gases that cause global warming, such as CO2, methane, CFCs, and NOx. Buildings are directly and indirectly responsible for global warming due to gas emissions during their life cycle (energy consumption from the production and transport of materials, the construction of the building, and the heating, cooling and lighting in the building).
  • Ozone depletion: Ozone depletion is considered a serious global environmental problem, because thinning of the ozone layer allows more harmful short-wave radiation to reach the earth's surface, potentially causing changes to ecosystems as flora and fauna have varying abilities to cope with it. The largest contributor to ozone depletion is the release of halocarbons, namely chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), bromofluorocarbons (halons), methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) are often used in air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, foams, aerosols, and fire extinguishers. Thus, indicators to reduce the ozone depletion impact include the atmospheric emissions of CFC11 equivalent from a building's life cycle, and avoiding the use of ozone-depleting substances.
  • Acidification: Sulphur and nitrogen compounds cause acidification, which affects trees, soil, buildings, animals and humans through dissolution in rain or wet deposition. The principal human source is fossil fuel and biomass combustion, but other compounds including hydrogen chloride and ammonia also contribute. These sulphur and nitrogen compounds are emitted due to fossil fuel consumption in constructing and using a building. The indicator for acidification impact is emissions in SO2 equivalents over the building's life cycle.
  • Eutrophication: Eutrophication, also described as 'over enrichment of water courses', is caused by nitrogen and phosphorus compounds (i.e. nutrients released to land and water directly or indirectly through leakage or deposition). The indicator for eutrophication considers only nitrogen and phosphorus compounds emitted during the life cycle of building.
  • Human toxicity: Buildings may release substances that are toxic to humans into the environment during their life cycle. The indicators for this impact include toxic substances released from buildings (asbestos, radon, PCBs, leads etc.) and the likely risk of Legionnaires' disease.
  • Ecotoxicity: Ecotoxicity refers to the impact on an ecosystem from the release of toxic substances during the life cycle of a building. Indicators include all chemicals released into the environment.
  • Winter/summer smog: Photochemical oxidants are formed as the result of diffusion and photochemical reactions involving ozone precursors, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and NOx emitted into the air. This indicator is also sometimes referred to as 'low-level ozone creation'.
  • Emissions to air, water and land: In addition to environmental impacts, which have already been described above, environmental pollutants and other effluents that flow from buildings throughout their life cycle need to be considered. These environmental pollutants released to air, water and land (ground) are defined as sub-categories, such as 'emissions to air', 'emissions to water', and 'emissions to land'.
  • Biodiversity: Buildings are major contributors to the loss of floral and faunal biodiversity (Barnett, 2002). Indicators considered are the change of species index for building development, wildlife habitat preservation, and biodiversity conservation. 

Other environmental impact measures

  • Ecological footprint
    • Definition of ecological footprint
    • Overview of concept and general application
    • Relevance to commercial buildings
    • Procedure
    • Ongoing development
  • Eco-indicator
    • Definition of eco-indicator
    • Overview of concept
    • Relevance and application to commercial buildings
    • Procedure
    • Further development

Outside of the building, construction and property industry, a number of other environmental impact measures are used. Many of these are applicable, or have already been applied, to the built environment.

Two well-known measures are ecological footprint and eco-indicator.

Ecological footprint

Definition of ecological footprint

The ecological footprint (EF, or simply 'footprint') is defined as 'a measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using prevailing technology and resource management practices. The ecological footprint is usually measured in global hectares (gha). Because trade is global, an individual or country's footprint includes land or sea from all over in the world' (GFN, 2006a).

Overview of concept and general application

Since Rees and Wackernagel's(1995) publication of Our ecological footprint: reducing human impact on the earth, EF has gained widespread popularity and recognition. The main appeal is its conceptual simplicity and the ability for EF comparisons (e.g. EF per person) at various levels, such as world regions, countries, whole economies, industry sectors, and even down to individual events/activities and lifestyles.

The use of the ecological footprint to
communicate demand for bio-productive capacity
Source: WWF, 2004 Performance figure 5 large

For example, the left figure compares the footprint of different countries, illustrating the relative difference in consumption per capita. The horizontal line indicates that the average 'earthshare' available to each human citizen is approximately 1.9 gha per capita. The inset to the figure shows the footprint by world regions, and can be used to compare the footprint to the available biological capacity to indicate when there is an imbalance in demand and supply — referred to as 'overshoot'.

Australia's footprint is about 7.7 gha per person (WWF, 2006). The average Victorian needs 8.1 gha of land to sustain their lifestyle. This means that if everyone on the planet lived like Victorians, we would need more than four Earths to support us. A detailed report with further background on this work is available at the Victorian EPA website:

Relevance to commercial buildings

The footprint concept has already been applied to commercial buildings and there are a number of Australian case studies, calculators and companies that use the footprint as an indicator. Users of the footprint range from developers, city councils, industry and even superannuation funds. VicUrban's Aurora residential development provides a detailed example of the use of the footprint at the development scale.

Interestingly, the Aurora example illustrates the importance of carbon dioxide emissions in the footprint calculation. However, other sustainability issues beyond greenhouse gases, including those used by Sustainability Victoria for the development, are not captured (Grant et al., 2006). In particular, the footprint is not particularly sensitive to the water initiatives of the development or other green development issues. Consequently, the footprint is mainly useful as a proxy for greenhouse gases and its ability to communicate this impact.

The GPT Group, one of the largest property groups in Australia, also reports using the EPA Victoria footprint calculator for assessing direction and performance of retail buildings (Noller, 2006). One of the advantages noted was the ability to set and communicate targets that have some relation to ecological limits. Recent initiatives by the GPT Group, such as purchasing 25% of its office portfolio energy from Green Power (Frew, 2007), will be captured by the footprint as a corresponding reduction.

In relation to commercial buildings, the use of the footprint as a proxy for greenhouse gases is likely to remain its main application. Issues such as water are unlikely to be accommodated easily into the footprint and bio-capacity accounts (which underpin EPA Victoria calculators). Other contentious issues include land impacts and the use of the global hectare as a unit of measure. These issues are particularly important for footprint comparisons in general, and for comparing the footprint of commercial buildings in particular.


The footprint is a developing methodology, overseen by the Global Footprint Network (GFN) (, and footprint standards are currently being developed (GFN, 2006b; see also Monfreda et al., 2004 for details).

EPA Victoria has a series of calculators ( that calculate the footprint for:

  • personal
  • home
  • schools
  • office
  • retail (tenants and owners)
  • events.

The calculators draw upon the footprint and bio-capacity accounts from GFN.

Ongoing development

Although the footprint is now widely used as an indicator of environmental sustainability, even GFN emphasises that it is only one condition for sustainability. There are a number of methodological issues that are likely to remain unresolved or contentious for some time (see Lenzen et al., 2006 for details). Furthermore, 'policy decisions regarding biodiversity, resource management, social well-being and other sustainability dimensions require consideration of factors beyond the footprint. Footprint reports need to state clearly that footprints are not complete sustainability measures' (GFN, 2006a:26).


An alternative approach for measuring environmental impacts is via the application of the life cycle assessment (LCA) method. This first reports the 'damage scores(s)' of individual materials or products. The individual product scores can then be aggregated for the whole building, thus considering the project-specific context.

Definition of eco-indicator

Eco-indicator is an environmental performance indicator method, based on the state of the art impact assessment method for LCA. This method is the basis for the calculation of eco-indicator scores for materials and processes. It offers a way to measure various environmental impacts, and shows a final result in a single score.

Overview of concept

The Eco-indicator 99 method was developed in 1999 by Pré Consultants, a Dutch eco-design agency, in partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Housing and the Environment, and with contribution from scientific experts on the life cycle approach (Goedkoop & Spriensma, 2001). Eco-indicator 99 has broader scope and is more complex than its previous version (Eco-indicator 95), and is now being used by many designers worldwide.

Eco-indicator 99 transforms environmental life cycle inventory data (LCI) into the following damage categories:

  • Human health: This is measured in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), representing the years lived disabled and years of life lost for people exposed to harmful substances (Murray, 1996).
  • Ecosystem quality: The units of ecosystem quality are the potentially affected fraction (PAF) of species in relation to toxic substances, determined by the percent of all species present in the affected environment that are living under toxic stress (Meent et al., 1999).
  • Resources: These are measured by the quantity, in mega joules, of the surplus energy of the remaining mineral and fossil resources (Chapman & Roberts, 1983).

The final result can be one single score, but it is also possible to present separate impact category indicators, or three damage indicators. The single score can be used as an environmental performance indicator and can be presented via a user-friendly tool for designers and product managers. It means that the eco-indicator of a material or process is a single number that indicates the environmental impact of a material or process, based on data from a life cycle assessment. The larger the score (points), the worse the environmental impact.

Relevance and application to commercial buildings

By using Eco-indicator 99, any designer or product manager can analyse the environmental loads of products over the life cycle. Some application examples are shown in the table below.

Eco-indicator 99 applications in different phases of the product life cycle

Phase Goal Tools
Searching for products Development and selection of new product-market combinations Product policy analysis, assessment of technological and market developments
Analysis Description of exact goals, primary requirements of the product LCAs of reference products, short 'what-if' analysis
Idea generation Generation of alternative product (or service) solutions Rules of thumb, earlier experiences, guidelines and eco-indicators
Concept development Selection of the best alternatives and development of concepts Rules of thumb, earlier experiences, guidelines and eco-indicators
Detailed design Technical design drawings, cost calculations etc. Specific information on materials, processing etc.: LCA, Design for recycling/DFE/DFX tools

Source: MSHPE, 2000

Eco-indicator 99 is currently used as one of the main impact measures in SimaPro Software (MHSPE, 2000), which is used broadly for environmental assessment of products and processes around the world. It is also used in LCADesign, which is a fully integrated approach to automatic eco-efficiency assessment of commercial building designs, using a 3D CAD building model to assess the environmental impacts resulting from use of alternative building materials (Seo et al., 2005, 2007). LCADesign integrates the 3D CAD model with life cycle inventories of materials: refer to tables in the Common tools and rating systems and Tool selection guide and comparisons sections of this article (above) to see how LCADesign compares with other environmental assessment and rating tools.


Eco-indicator 99 is a 'damage' or end-point approach, which identifies areas of concern and determines what factors cause damage to these areas. Eco-indicator 99 transforms environmental inventory data into damage scores, which can be aggregated, depending on the needs and the choice of the user, to damage scores for each of three comprehensive damage categories (human health, ecosystem quality, and resources), or reduced to one single score.

The procedure is as follows:

  • Resource analysis: This links an extraction of a resource to a decrease of the resource concentration.
  • Land-use analysis: This is based on a function of the land-use type and the area size. This analysis takes into account local damage on the occupied or transformed area, as well as the regional damage on ecosystems.
  • Fate analysis: This links an emission to a temporary change in concentration.
  • Exposure and effect analysis: Exposure analysis links temporary concentration to a dose, and effect analysis links the dose to a number of health effects (like the number and types of cancers).
  • Damage analysis: This links health effects to DALYs (disability adjusted life years), which are calculated for each emission into air, water and soil.
  • Normalisation and weighting:* The three damage categories have different units. In order to use a set of dimensionless weighting factors from the panel, these damage categories must be made dimensionless. Damage results are normalised based on specific area (Western Europe, Australia, or World etc.) for one year per person. Weighting is then applied to produce a single indicator.

A diagrammatic representation of the Eco-indicator 99 methodology required to calculate a single score is shown in the figure below. A full description of the method can be obtained from the Pré website (

Schematic diagram for the Eco-indicator 99 approach
Source: Goedkoop & Spriensma, 2001

Performance figure 6


Further development

Key issues and challenges in using the Eco-indicator 99 methodology have been identified by Gooedkoop (2006) and Kerfoot (2005). There are also additional deficiencies for direct use in Australia, but there are initiatives to develop a version that is applicable locally. The scope/content of the damage categories need to be re-visited, and relative weights of the categories need to be re-assessed considering local issues and priorities (i.e. the importance of environmental impacts to Australian society as a whole). 

Implementing and operating for improved performance

  • Performance requirements management system
  • Performance validation, monitoring and feedback

This section deals with what to do after undertaking an environmental performance assessment.

Performance requirements management system

As indicated in the figure above titled Overview of a general process of environmental performance assessment, the performance targets, assessment process and outputs (report and certification) should be saved, documented and archived as part of a whole-life performance requirements management program for the facility. This has short-term and long-term applications in efficiently managing the facility, either for existing use or for new use.

Performance validation, monitoring and feedback

The figure below illustrates the use of a feedback loop for when the building has been completed and is in full use. This feedback loop allows both actual capital cost (of delivery) and operating and facility management cost to be checked against planned costs, and both actual technical and actual environmental performance to be checked against the performance targets identified in the project brief.

Closing the loop: checking actual performance with project brief and learning for future projects
Source: Based on Huovila & Leinonen, 2001

Performance figure 7

Measures of actual performance contribute to a better understanding of the 'health' of the facility, as well as to the development of a performance benchmark database (Roaf et al., 2004). The former allows identification of immediate actions required to keep up or finetune performance. The latter contributes to improving knowledge and practice (for many stakeholders, but especially architects, engineers and builders), to informing future building projects, and to improving the quality of the building stock.

This means that stakeholders should have a sensible plan of environmental and functional/physical performance assessment throughout the life of the facility. This could include semi-automated or automated data collection, and regular or periodic assessments.

Green Square South Tower, Brisbane

Water meters will be installed to monitor all major water uses in Green Square South Tower. These include bathroom water consumption, rainwater collection and wash-down system. The meters will be linked to the Building Management System to provide a leak detection system. 



NABERS Office (Energy & Water) -
Green Star -
BREEAM Offices -
SBTool -
LCADesign - (for contact information)
EcoSpecifier -
Evergen Product Guide - (for contact information)


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