For the first time, facilities managers can benchmark environmental performance of their office fit-out projects following the launch by Rics of a new assessment tool
6 May 2010
Fit-out and refurbishment could be described as the ‘Cinderella’ sector of UK construction – industrious and busy, but all too often overlooked. Although it’s thought to account for around 10 per cent of all construction spend in the UK – or approximately £6.9bn a year – concrete figures are hard to come by. Perhaps this is the reason that, while the popularity of environmental benchmarking systems such as Breeam and Leed has been growing, there has never been an accurate way of assessing the environmental performance of a fit-out project. Given that a building could have as many as 30 or 40 fit-outs in its lifetime, this is a significant gap in an industry that now appreciates how closely the environmental agenda is linked to measurable business benefits.
The Ska Rating focuses on seven key areas: energy, materials, pollution, transport, waste, well-being and water use. In considering these areas, 99 different good practice measures have been developed offering guidance in areas such as the installation of energy-efficient lighting and the reuse of materials. Of course, not all 99 measures will be relevant or applicable to every project, so a scoping exercise needs to be conducted at the earliest possible stage to determine exactly what measures are within the scope of the project at hand, with the relevant measures weighted to ensure firms don’t just target the quickest, easiest wins.
The final Rating – gold, silver or bronze – is then based on the number of relevant measures achieved by the project. It’s important to note that the Ska Rating isn’t a meant to be a retrospective assessment (although it can certainly be used that way) it should be viewed as a guidance tool which can be used to help determine exactly what can be achieved on any given fit out from the earliest of design stages.
Neither is the Ska Rating a costly process to undertake. In fact the details of what the 99 best practice measures entail and an intuitive online tool to help determine which ones are in scope for your project are all freely available online. It’s only when businesses need to officially and independently certificate their achievements that they will want to access the services provided by a Rics-trained accreditor. There are already over 50 trained assessors across the UK, but many more are undergoing the two-day training courses being held by the Rics throughout 2010. Assessments take place at three points of the project – design, construction, and post-occupancy – with this last point of contact designed to illustrate whether, one year on, standards are maintained.
Launched at the end of 2009, after nearly four years of development by the Rics and a cross section of leading businesses operating in the building design, fit out and architecture sectors, the profile of the Ska Rating is now growing quickly. The first quarter of 2010 has seen a strong first wave assessors signing up for the training courses and nearly a dozen fit out projects (in both the public and private sector) are already working towards achieving their certifications.
At the time of writing the first Gold level Ska Rating is about to be awarded and we’re looking forward to sharing this story with other businesses looking to achieve the same standard. Retrospective assessments of fit outs already in progress when the Ska Rating was launched have also taken place at a range of other organisations including Unicef, the Bank of China and the Audit Commission.
The take up has certainly been extremely positive but early reactions to the tool in development – it won two CoreNet Global Awards for Sustainability and the inaugural AIS (Association of Interior Specialists) Eco-Innovation Award before it was even launched – were a sign that this was a system the industry has been waiting for. This latent interest has in part been attributed to the fact that ‘green’ best practice and cost savings are intrinsically linked. Energy efficiency, material reuse, waste reduction and employee well-being all have a direct and positive impact on reducing costs.
The recent recession has hit the construction industry hard and the Construction Products Association warns construction spend is unlikely to return to 2007 levels until 2021. In an industry that has always worked to the tightest of margins this puts an even keener focus on the bottom line. With the Ska Rating now showing how profitability and environmental best practice go hand-in-hand, the fit out sector can become much more prevalent and a viable alternative for businesses shelving plans for new build projects. It won’t be the Cinderella of the construction industry for very much longer.
Tim Robinson is director of strategic business development at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
• The rating system started life as a research project, initiated and sponsored by interior construction company Skansen. It quickly gathered the working title ‘SKA’ based on the first three letters of Skansen’s name. Although other names were considered during the system’s development, it was the Ska Rating label that proved the most memorable – so the decision was made to retain it.
• To view the Ska Rating’s 99 best practice measures or to set up a free online assessment for your fit out project, visit www.rics.org/ska.