BREEAM, LEED and DGNB – international green building certification for hotels is gaining ground in Scandinavia, offering higher returns on investment and a greener world of travel.

By Christian Brorsen

Sustainability is fast becoming a new benchmark in the hospitality sector. What initially started with the lofty goals of the UN Global Compact in 1999 has since evolved into a consensus in the corporate world of the value of CSR strategies and a whole new approach to green building certification of construction, refurbishment and repurposing, BREEAM, LEED and DGNB.

Guiding this climate-friendly development are not only the visions of policymakers but also a burgeoning awareness among industry decision-makers that sustainability is increasingly in popular demand. carried out a large international survey in 2017, which showed that hotel guests prefer sustainable accommodation.

A total of 68 percent of more than 11,000 respondents said they were more likely to choose a hotel if it were eco-friendly, and 46 percent considered themselves to be sustainable travellers. Sustainability has become a competitive industry parameter, offering unique opportunities for investors and hotel operators alike.


Consumer preferences are not the only reasons why green building certification makes perfect economic sense. Certification also guarantees the value of a long-term investment in a building by ensuring that it enjoys greater flexibility of use throughout its lifecycle.

“If a building can be repurposed more easily in compliance with future building standards, which are expected to become tougher, then having your building certified is a way of future-proofing your investment and revenues,” says Director of Green Building Council Denmark (DK-GBC), Mette Qvist, to GUEST magazine.

From an operational perspective, costs are also considerably lower. The perception has traditionally been that sustainable buildings are costlier to construct, extend or renovate than buildings complying with standard building regulations, but a growing body of research now challenges these established ideas.

Complying with leading green building certification almost comes at no extra cost, according to a recent study by the Sweet Group and BRE Academy in the UK. They compared regular construction cost data with BREEAM-certified case study buildings to examine the capital costs of achieving different levels of sustainability, grading them either Pass, Good, Very Good and Excellent under the BREEAM New Construction certification programme, which is a tried and tested scheme launched in 1990.

Their conclusion was that the lower BREEAM ratings (requiring approx. 30 percent compliance) incur little or no additional cost to construction. There are some additional costs with the higher BREEAM ratings, although typically less than 2 percent. When taking utility savings into consideration, the higher initial investment was paid back within two to five years.

Cost-cutting benefits for operators can particularly be significant in the hospitality sector that requires high levels of energy and water consumption along with extensive use of housekeeping chemicals and where large quantities of waste and other maintenance activities impact the environment.

One recent example of the considerable operational savings offered by BREEAM-compliance is AccorHotels. A client satisfaction survey had showed that 60 percent of their guests indicated a preference for sustainable accommodation. They were even willing to pay more to minimise their carbon footprint. Thus encouraged, AccorHotels adopted a strategy whereby all newly constructed brand hotels are to be BREEAM-certified starting in 2020.

Piloting their new strategy, the recently constructed Novotel London Canary Wharf Hotel is designed to lower CO2 emissions by 30 percent compared to regular buildings. Rainwater is recycled and waste has been reduced by 30 percent, too. All in all, AccorHotels has defined 65 concrete measuring points for sustainability for the London hotel, which is expected to achieve the highest possible BREEAM-rating. With such clear savings on utilities there is arguably little reason why guests at AccorHotels should ever need to pay more for sustainability.

Green Solution House is a combined sustainability knowledge centre and conference hotel on the island of Bornholm. The complex is constructed using local materials and follows a lifecycle design. Powered by renewable energy, the hotel has two “smart rooms” where guests can constantly monitor their environmental footprint.

Green Solution House


Over the past decade or so, Green Building Councils have been established in all Scandinavian countries, aiming to promote national certification programmes, including Sweden’s Miljöbyggnad, in addition to international programmes such as BREEAM, LEED and DGNB, which have all been adapted to local conditions and building codes.

The choice of green building schemes differs in all three Scandinavian countries. Norway opted for BREEAM and launched a local adaptation in 2011. Denmark adopted the German-developed DGNB certification scheme in 2012. Sweden introduced BREEAM and LEED certification in 2013.

So how do these schemes compare? They all reflect the environmental and social dimensions of the UN Global Compact in addition to an economic dimension, but in different weighted approaches.

BREEAM and LEED give 66 and 68 percent weight to the environmental aspects of sustainability respectively, whereas DGNB balances not only the environmental and social dimensions but also the economic aspect almost equally, such as the longevity and lifecycle of the building. DGNB was developed later than most other certifications and follows the European standards for sustainable buildings, according to a comprehensive 2018 Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications from the Danish Building Institute.

There are also differences in the required level of compliance. Whereas being BREEAM-certified does not require compliance with the full range of parameters, DGNB-certification requires a minimum compliance on all parameters of 50 percent. DGNB furthermore requires 100 percent compliance within two specific areas, namely indoor climate and disability accessibility. The DGNB grade system has also been narrowed to three tiers: Bronze, Silver and Gold.

Courtesy of AccorHotels


Overall, the market for green building certification in Scandinavia is driven by the commitment of investors as much as operators. Denmark’s first DGNB-certified Green Solution House opened in 2014 on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm and achieved a Bronze grading. Acting as a combined sustainability knowledge centre and conference hotel, the complex is also Cradle2Cradle and Active House-certified. Donations and loans from not-for-profit organisations, including RealDania, helped establish the eco-hotel.

“We are pleased that a building has now been created which will become an important hub for knowledge-sharing and development. It will especially be exciting to see what we can learn from the sustainable solutions that are part of Green Solution House. We hope it will serve as such a good example and that the solutions will show new avenues in making construction more green and sustainable,” said Program Manager for Innovation in Construction at RealDania, Lennie Clausen.

Sweden saw its first BREEAM-certified hotel in 2015, namely Gothia Towers Hotel in Gothenburg, which was the largest hotel in Europe to achieve the Very Good grading. Indeed, it was one of only 50 BREEAM-certified hotels in Europe at the time.

“The certification is a proof of quality, showing that we are working with systems that demand high quality and that are recognised as an industry practice worldwide. As our venue is located in the centre of Gothenburg city and with large visitor flows, it is important that we take our responsibility and contribute to a sustainable city as well. This is also why sustainability is one of our five core strategies,” said Carin Kindbom, CEO of the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre.

Although Sweden has also adopted the LEED certification programme, no Swedish hotels have yet been certified under the programme, despite LEED being the leading certification scheme for hotels in the USA, for instance.

In Norway, the first hotel to achieve BREEAM-certification for new construction was Comfort Hotel Bergen Airport, which received a Very Good ranking in 2017. The Bergen property is owned by Linstow, one of Norway’s leading real estate investors.

“The lessons of the certification are clearly positive. It creates a focus in the project and ensures both documentation and quality. Also, we’ve found that contractors and suppliers were well prepared. BREEAM-NOR is definitely becoming part of the everyday Norwegian build,” said Arild Carter, representing Linstow, to

Courtesy of AccorHotels


International green building schemes are constantly being revised based on new knowledge and knowhow, in many cases setting the pace for revisions of national building standards and codes, according to Director of DK-GBC, Mette Qvist. Green building certification helps developers, construction companies and investors stay one step ahead and add value to their projects by securing compliance with not only current but also presumed future building standards, making the building easier to later readapt or repurpose throughout its lifecycle.

A Norwegian survey conducted in 2015 by Hege Bjørndal of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that investors who had adopted green building certification within a broad range of development projects were generally very satisfied with the process and intended to apply such certification again to new projects.

Next in line for DGNB-certification in Denmark is Zleep Hotel Aarhus Skejby, a 100-room budget hotel set to open in May 2019 just north of Aarhus and aiming for Gold DGNB-certification. The property is owned by institutional investor PensionDanmark. One of Denmark’s fastest-growing budget hotel concepts, Zleep has adopted a clear vision when it comes to DGNB-certification.

“Zleep Hotels is dedicated to sustainability. We approach this aim on several competitive parameters targeting our customers, who are mainly from Scandinavia and therefore very environmentally conscious. So far, we have mainly worked with achieving as environmentally sound and sustainable daily operations of our hotels as possible, but as we further commit to building new hotels, we also want these properties to be constructed sustainably. Fortunately, we find that the institutional investors that we work with also focus on sustainability.

“So, although this is an area that is technically complex and difficult to grasp, our policy is that we will now ensure our projects are all sustainability certified. And we undertake this in order to position ourselves strongly in the market and thus also achieve a clear economic advantage.” Peter Haaber, CEO of Zleep Hotels, says to GUEST magazine.

Like with BREEAM-certification, repurposed buildings can also gain certification under the GDNA-scheme. The next such project in Denmark in the hotel industry is the conversion of a former NORDEA HQ building into the waterfront Hilton Copenhagen City Centre Hotel, set to open in 2021 with 400 rooms and suites. Like the Zleep Hotel property in Aarhus, the Copenhagen hotel is owned by a major institutional investor, ATP-Ejendomme, which in a grand undertaking is currently seeking to certify its entire portfolio of investment properties under the DGNB scheme.

“Property investment and administration is not just a matter of bricks and capital. At least not if competitiveness is to be maintained. We must be able to act responsibly on several levels. We must ensure a high return for the benefit of all ATP customers and we must live up to current requirements for the interior design, architecture, and environmental conditions of the properties. Active ownership is a keyword for us.” ATP-Ejendomme states.

With any business, the future is never certain. But within the hospitality sector in Scandinavia we can almost certainly say, that future property investments will very likely be certifiably green.


Using independent licensed assessors, BREEAM, LEED and DGNB green building certification examines scientifically based criteria covering a range of issues to evaluate energy, water use, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology, supply-chain and management processes. Assessments are rated on a scale.


  • The building certification schemes offer benchmark rating systems and clarity of comparison.
  • The certification offers the basis for a far more comprehensive approach to sustainable management than schemes such as Green Key and Green Globe.
  • Certified buildings offer greater flexibility of use during their lifecycle, allowing buildings to be repurposed at lower cost.
  • Over time, national building codes are expected to converge with green building requirements.
  • Hotel operators in certified buildings benefit from lower utility costs and higher consumer preference.
  • The overall added cost of compliance with an international certification programme is considered minimal.

Sweden Green Building Council,

Norway Green Building Council,

Denmark Green Building Council,