Ska rating for office fit-out explained

William Poole-Wilson, partner at architect and workplace consultant Pringle Brandon, outlines a new environmental tool and how it was applied to the fit-out of a London hq. In the UK, approximately £6.5 billion is spent each year on office fit-outs and this figure may well rise with companies being forced to relocate and consolidate in what continues to be a difficult market.  In measuring the sustainability of fit-outs, tools like BREEAM are often used, but these can be prescriptive in measures occupiers should take and were never designed with refurbishment in mind.  In November 2009, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) launched the Ska rating, a new environmental assessment scheme designed for and focused entirely on fit-outs.

What is the Ska rating?

Developed by players in the property industry including Skanska, the RICS, Pringle Brandon and AECOM, the rating comprises 99 good practice measures covering energy and CO2 emissions, waste, water, pollution, transport, materials and wellbeing. Depending on the number and significance of measures achieved by a fit-out project, it can be awarded a gold, silver or bronze rating.

The rating has been designed to be accessible, affordable and informative. Best practice guidance and an online assessment tool are free for any company, of any size, to self-assess a fit-out.  Achieving formal accreditation and a certificate costs carries a small fee, based on the time and expertise of trained assessors.

The first pilot

The new assessment tool is being piloted on several schemes, the first to complete being the new headquarters of international Lloyd’s insurance broker RFIB Group, where energy efficiency was a key objective.

Pringle Brandon was appointed by RFIB Group to first help identify a new headquarters building. We reviewed four buildings in total, producing test fit layouts based on the firm’s brief, which required 40,000 sq ft of office space, including dedicated reception, client meeting rooms, internal meeting rooms, cellular offices and extensive filing storage. We chose two floors of 20 Gracechurch Street in London.

Working closely with RFIB Group’s in-house specialist construction team, we took the project through the rating process.  Key environmental guidance and criteria were explored and adhered to including:

  • RIBA sustainability advice
  • Building Regulations Part L 2006
  • EU Directive 2002/91/EC and the article 7/10 advisory group
  • The Carbon Trust’s Low Carbon Building Design Advice Service
  • BRE Green Guide to Specifications
  • WRAP – recycled content during procurement
  • BRE SMARTWaste system
  • Forest Stewardship Council.

All options were evaluated based on their environmental impact, RFIB’s operational efficiency and energy use.  Products and finishes were specified by the design team, jointly with the client, based on good environmental performance.

For optimum results, we advocate that the rating tool should be embedded in the project process from the concept stage.  On the RFIB Group fit-out, this was not possible due to the completion date of the assessment tool, so we used it from the specification stage.  Despite this, and thanks to RFIB’s drive for creating a sustainable workplace and commitment to fully embracing the new tool, the project achieved a Silver Award.

As accredited assessors for the rating and on this project, we have learned a lot that we can now apply to future projects:

  • Starting the process as early as possible and working through the design and materials selection allows us to research products’ environmental credentials and identify similar alternatives that are rated A+ or A under the green guide.
  • Sitting down with the client and contractor to run through the benefits even before we start on site ensures the whole team buys into the process, and enables the team to explore other areas that could be included to push up the rating.
  • Understanding what we need as evidence allows us to write this into our specifications, so we can collate and reference the targeted areas quicker and make the process even smoother.

A long-term view

A useful feature of the rating is the incentive to continue the sustainability drive beyond the initial fit-out.  A year after the completion of the fit-out, the premises can be reassessed to determine if it still deserves its silver award based on operational performance.

Another driver comes in the form of staff productivity and comfort.  RFIB Group’s employees benefit directly from an efficient workplace, with greater control over their environment through thoughtful use of daylight controls, glare reduction and service monitoring, and ready availability of recycling facilities.

Of course, RFIB Group’s credentials as a socially responsible firm with environmental friendly policies have also been enhanced, internally and externally, by affording environmental controls prominence in the design. Coinciding with a rebrand as it did, a new corporate identity was integrated with efficiency within the design; delivering both the new corporate message and a strong environmental one too. RFIB Group wanted to send a clear message and they will make every effort to make sure it is consistent.

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