Choosing the environmental assessment tool for a fit-out can make a difference, says Joe Croft.
The good news is that the fit-out industry and its supply chain are making progress when it comes to building sustainably. However, it still remains unclear to some clients and end users as to which environmental assessment tool, BREEAM or Ska, is most suitable for fit-out projects.
With the updated BREEAM scheme – the BREEAM UK Non-Domestic Refurbishment and Fit-Out (RFO) tool was launched last year – this is becoming a popular debate and it is important for clients to have a good understanding of what they want to achieve and where the key differences lie.
The new RFO 2014 scheme, in operation for exactly a year, has been tailored to the requirements of fit-out projects and to reflect the split between tenant and landlord responsibilities. It is split into four categories: fabric and structure; core services; local services; and interior design. Projects can assess themselves against a single category, all four or any combination.
Arguably, the introduction of a specific refurbishment and fit-out BREEAM scheme is the result of the increasing use of the Ska scheme, launched in 2009 by RICS. It was originally developed by fit-out contractor Skansen which recognised that the standard BREEAM and LEED methodologies on fit-outs, especially on existing buildings, were unsatisfactory in terms of costs and relevance.
Over the past six years, we have seen an increase in the number of BREEAM and Ska assessments, as well as a general increase in projects seeking an environmental assessment. In 2009, 90% of our environmental assessments were BREEAM; this year it is a near 45% split between BREEAM and Ska, with several LEED jobs making up the numbers.
One of the main difficulties with assessing projects using the fit-out criteria within the previous BREEAM Offices 2008 scheme was the lack of flexibility. Projects that made extensive efforts in design and implementation stages were often restricted by the base build. While the new four-part system that RFO employs allows for greater flexibility, it still remains less flexible than Ska. If your project doesn’t fit neatly within one or more of the RFO’s four parts you may end up being marked against criteria outside the project’s scope.
"Though it helps, it is not enough to just have a good assessor – a successful assessment delivery is tied directly to the knowledge and understanding of the team."
It is important to highlight the substantial rise in benchmark requirements in the RFO scheme. The benchmarks hadn’t changed since BREEAM Office in 2008 so by 2014 there had been a big jump in expectations. For example, in 2008, all resource efficiency credits could be achieved by producing less than 4.7 tonnes per 100 sq m gross internal floor area. The equivalent under the 2014 RFO scheme is now 0.4 tonnes per 100 sq m – a 90% reduction. On the face of it, this seems incredibly difficult to achieve and it is an example of how the raised benchmarks are forcing the industry to rethink its approach.
On our first RFO project, we put a huge amount of effort into the reduction of waste, challenging subcontractors to consider how they brought materials to site. This resulted in a final resource efficiency of 1.4 tonnes per 100 sq m – an achievement, but still not low enough to secure all the resource efficiency credits.
When considering the two schemes, I am regularly asked about the cost implications of each. For both, assessor fees are dependent on size, complexity, time-frame and the rating targeted. Ska assessor fees can range between £3,000 to £10,000 while BREEAM RFO assessor fees are typically between £9,000 to £25,000. Additionally, BREEAM can sometimes require more external consultants – from ecologists to acousticians. These costs can be difficult to justify on small fit-outs, which is why Ska is frequently the preference on smaller projects.
For clients refurbishing Cat A space to rent, there is a trend towards choosing BREEAM, which has been backed up by research showing an impact on rental values. As time passes, I expect organisations commissioning research will consider Ska too and it will be interesting to see how the two schemes compare.
In terms of delivery, it is never too early to consider the environmental assessment options. The BREEAM RFO scheme ties several actions to RIBA stages, forcing early consideration of environmental and sustainability issues, while Ska is also easier to achieve if considered from the initial project development.
Though it helps, it is not enough to just have a good assessor – a successful assessment delivery is tied directly to the knowledge and understanding of the team. The best projects I have worked on had consultants who embraced the scheme from the start, as well as a contractor with experience of collating evidence to the necessary detail and quality.
There are benefits to both schemes and the choice of scheme will ultimately come down to the specific nature of the project and desired aspirations of the client. At the end of a project, no matter which assessment you have used, it is important to communicate how the methodology drove design and delivery decisions, and what this means to the occupants.
Joe Croft is head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury