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New assessment tool for sustainable fit-outs

11 November 2009

A system which rates the environmental impact of office fit-outs - an area accounting for 10 percent of construction spend in the UK - is launched by RICS.

Frank Booty reports: Against a background of pressure growing for property occupiers and owners to improve the sustainability of existing as well as new buildings, RICS has led the development of an assessment methodology, rating tool and scheme that focuses on fit-out and allows for the measurement, labelling, quality-assured certification and benchmarking of workplace projects.
In launching the Ska Rating fit-out sustainability assessment method last week, Max Crofts, president of RICS, pointed to the institution’s commitment to sustainable principles, also adding, “The Australian RICS membership has been active on the green front, producing a technical due diligence paper and guidance on reducing waste at the end of leases.” Also, RICS and 500 other bodies were signatories to the Copenhagen climate change communiqué given to the secretary of the UN.
Tim Robinson, director, strategic business development, RICS, said, “Ska Rating is an environmental labelling method designed to rate and compare the environmental performance of fit-out projects initially for office buildings in the UK. “
Ska Rating helps organisations achieve more sustainable fit-outs. Anybody interested in fitting out an office building in a more environmentally sustainable way can use the method to:
 carry out an informal self-assessment of the environmental performance of their fit-out;
 commission a quality assured assessment and certificate from an RICS-accredited Ska assessor;
 obtain clear guidance on good practice in fit-out and how to implement it; and
 benchmark the performance of fit outs against each other and the rest of the industry
“Ska Rating is designed to encourage good practice in fit-out work and has been developed collaboratively by consultants, contractors and occupiers,” said Robinson. “The fit out sector is currently underserved with specific benchmarks and labelling although it is a substantial part of the construction industry. Ska Rating is intended to fill this gap. The UK construction industry spent £64.5bn in the years 2003-06; of which £6.9bn was attributed to the fit-out sector.”
The current economic climate is extending real-estate life-expectancy. Occupiers are now more likely to refurbish their existing offices than seek new ones but while there are proven methods for labelling the environmental performance of whole buildings, fit out has remained a sustainability blind spot. Ska Rating aims to rate only the environmental performance related to the scope of fit-out projects.
In 2005, interior construction company Skansen (from whence the nomenclature Ska derives) commissioned a research project with RICS and AECOM to establish whether it was possible to measure either the environmental impact of fit out on the environment, or measure or codify good environmental practice on fit out projects.
“The findings were compelling and during 2008-09 a collaborative team of development partners led by RICS evolved the concepts into the Ska Rating,” said James Pack, director at Skansen. “RICS adopted Ska in Christmas 2008 with the formal assignment to RICS in September 2009.”
With its in-depth focus on fit-out, Ska complements other labelling methods, such as BREEAM and LEED. Ska Rating labels 100% of the environmental performance related to the scope of fit-out projects, rather than being a whole building assessment. “It can be used in conjunction with or alongside other labels,” said Robinsion.
EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) and DEC (Display Energy Certificates) label how energy efficient a building is. Ska Rating focuses 100% on fit out and does consider energy but among a holistic range of sustainability considerations including waste, water, pollution, transport, materials and wellbeing as well as energy and carbon dioxide, “where Ska Rating informs you about the impact your fit out will have on energy efficiency.”
It has been a principle from the outset that Ska Rating should be free to use (it is designed to be accessible even for the smallest organisation). Producing and lodging a certificate with RICS costs £50. For businesses seeking the credibility of a professional certificate an assessor can be engaged to rate and certify the project. Costs through an individual accredited assessor will be £2,400 to £3,000 per certification, or more. 
The first recipient of a (silver) Ska Rating certificate is RFIB (see below). Meanwhile Google is using it in Europe, as well as nPower and Compuware of Maidenhead, with RICS itself coming onboard having just completed a refit at its London HQ.
“Ska Rating will help organisations make informed decisions about fit out projects in the context of the growing importance of sustainability on the corporate agenda and a burgeoning statute book,” said Robinson. “It’s designed to be of particular use for occupiers but has benefits for other property stakeholders including landlords, developers, consultants, fit out contractors and the supply chain.”
For occupiers/tenants – measure sustainability impact accurately, “the rating is influenced entirely by what you choose to do, not by what has been done in the past”; manage the bottom line; follow good practice; legal/statutory compliance; helps the decision making process; if you are ISO 14001 accredited, a Ska certificate helps ensure a fit-out project is rated accurately and can be used to support an environmental management system; enhancing customer, investor and stakeholder perception;  and staff engagement, as Ska Rating can be used to reinforce staff morale and complement other CSR activity.
For developers and landlords – use Ska Rating to set targets, then use the formal assessment process to assure yourself that target performance standards are met, and finally use the certificate to report performance to stakeholders. Also, benchmark the sustainability of fit outs across a portfolio of buildings, plus sustainability increasingly makes good business sense (research demonstrates an expected increase in the asset value of labelled low carbon buildings compared with standard speculative buildings).
For consultants – embed Ska Rating in standard processes to demonstrate a sustainable specification and procurement process for fit out is being followed.
For contractors – use the assessment process and related guidance to make design, specification, procurement and construction practices more environmentally sustainable. Also, demonstrate sustainability credentials to clients and consultants by making the targeting of standards under Ska Rating part of a standard tender process
“No matter what your starting point, a Ska Rating will enable you to measure 100% of the environmental performance of an office fit-out,” said Robinson. “It does not consider the base build, it measures only what you do to add value to your property.”
Ska comprises 99 good practice measures across energy and carbon dioxide, waste, water, pollution, transport, materials and wellbeing; e.g. when wooden flooring is stripped out it should be sent for re-use to a salvage yard instead of landfill.
“Each good practice measure is explained in a datasheet explaining the criteria that need to be achieved, the rationale behind the measure and guidance on how to achieve it,” said Robinson. “Because each fit out project is unique in terms of employers' requirements, the building/site and scope of works, Ska Rating scores the project on the basis only of those measures that are relevant to the project. These are called 'measures in scope'.”
Typically between 30 and 60 measures are likely to apply to most projects. The score is ranked in three thresholds gold, silver and bronze. These thresholds are reached by achieving 75%, 50% or 25%, respectively, of the measures in scope. Because some measures are more important from a sustainability perspective the measures are ranked from 1 to 99; 1 is the highest and 99 the lowest. To ensure that teams do not just target the easiest measures, the project has to achieve a number of the highest ranked measures in scope to score; these are known as ‘gateway measures’.
As with any fit-out project the Ska assessment process is broken into three stages: design/planning; delivery/construction; and post-occupancy assessment.
Finally, to become a Ska accredited assessor, RICS operates a two-day scheme to enable qualified professionals to undertake quality-assured Ska Rating assessments on behalf of organisations. Only Ska accredited assessors are able to formally certificate projects although anyone is free to use the online Ska Rating tool to informally evaluate a project. At a cost of £795 (RICS member) or £954 (non-RICS members), the course is designed for all building professionals who are involved in building and fitting out offices, e.g. surveyors, building surveyors, project managers, FMs, construction managers. Accredited Assessors will be required to join a register.
Development Partners
The Ska Rating Development partners are:AECOM – global provider of professional technical and management support services. 
ARCADIS AYH – UK-based company that delivers cost and commercial management and related consultancy services in the property and infrastructure market sectors. 
CareyJones Interiors – delivers award-winning projects from corporate banking HQs and casino resorts to apartments and restaurants. 
Curve21 – web design and development company specialising in the development of sustainability and renewable energy websites and toolkits. 
DTZ – global real estate adviser, working with clients to create property, investment and business solutions worldwide. 
Elina Grigoriou Interiors – creative interior design business specialising in commercial and sustainable design. 
Interserve – services, maintenance and building group operating in the public and private sectors in the UK and internationally. 
Pringle Brandon – architectural practice specialising in the design of high quality workplace solutions.
Savills – leading global real estate service provider listed on the London Stock Exchange. 
Scott Wilson – multi-disciplinary international design and engineering consultancy for the built and natural environments. 
Sheppard Robson – fifth biggest architectural practice in the UK, employing over 300 people and winning over 90 awards.
Skansen – interior construction company that specialises in the refurbishment and fitting out of commercial properties. 
Sun Microsystems – develops the technologies that power the global marketplace. Sun can be found in more than 100 countries.
ZZA – research and consulting practice connecting people and places to provide briefing guidance and design evaluation. 
Under the auspices of RICS, development partners’ representatives form the membership of the Ska Rating Development Committee and also oversee the Ska Rating Technical Advisory Group.
Case study: RFIB – first to achieve Ska Rating
RFIB Group is an international Lloyd’s insurance and reinsurance broker, with offices in Dubai, Kiev, Moscow, Perth and Tokyo, and HQ at Gracechurch St in the City of London. The company’s new offices were part of a wider business strategy, including a re-brand and the appointment of Marshall King as the new ceo. A key target for the project was to enhance environmental performance and efficiency.
Having selected a project team with strong sustainability credentials, including interior architect Pringle Brandon, recently recognised for its carbon-neutral fit out of Henderson Global Investors’ London HQ, every effort was made to achieve low or zero carbon emissions, giving credence to the following wherever possible:
 RIBA sustainability advice
 Building Regulations Part L 2006
 EU Directive 2002/91/EC and the article 7/10 advisory group
 Carbon Trust – low carbon building design advice service
 Green Guide to specifications
 WRAP – recycled content during procurement
 BRE SmartWASTE system
 Forest stewardship council
Measures were also taken to ensure the environmental rating achieved by the base build scheme was not compromised and, where possible, enhanced.
The project became the pilot project for Ska Rating at the suggestion of William Poole-Wilson of Pringle Brandon, who sits on the RICS Ska committee.  
The Ska Rating was introduced while the project was underway, so it was implemented during the specification phase (for future projects, it will be a driver from the concept or scheme design stage). As products and finishes were specified, the design team – jointly with the client – made every effort to select those which had good environmental performance.
The project was measured against 99 sustainability criteria, from energy and water consumption to green building materials, such as FSC-approved timber, and achieved SKA silver rating as a result.
Now, RFIB Group employees benefit directly from the fit out, with more control over their environment through thoughtful use of daylight controls, glare reduction and service monitoring, and ready availability of recycling facilities, which also links into productivity. RFIB Group’s credentials as a socially-responsible firm with environmentally-friendly policies have been enhanced, internally and externally, by affording environmental controls prominence in the design.
Awards for Ska Rating
Association of Interior Specialists, Eco-innovation award 2010 – Ska shortlisted
Winner: CoreNet Global, Industry Excellence Award 2009 (leadership and strategy)
Winner: CoreNet Global UK, Land Securities Trillium Award 2008 (sustainability)
Finalist: Construction News Quality Awards, 2009 (sustainability)

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