“The good news is; the fit out industry and its supply chain is 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," says Joe Croft, head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury.

"With the updated BREEAM scheme, choosing the right environmental assessment tool is becoming a popular debate and it’s important for clients to have a good understanding of what they want to achieve and where the key differences lie. With the new Refurbishment and Fit Out (RFO) 2014 scheme, there have been significant changes made to the requirements specifically for fit out projects. The introduction of a refurbishment and fit out specific BREEAM scheme is arguably the result of the increasing use of SKA, since SKA’s inception in 2009.

“Over the last six years, Overbury has seen a shift in the number of BREEAM and SKA assessments, as well as a general increase in projects seeking an environmental assessment. In 2009, 90% of Overbury’s environmental assessments were BREEAM, this year, it is a near 45% split between BREEAM and SKA, plus several LEED jobs to keep us on our toes.

“With BREEAM’s monopoly within the fit out sector ending, the BRE had to respond, and the new RFO scheme, does just that. 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 were often restricted by the base build. And, 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 of the project’s scope.

“It’s important to highlight the substantial rise in benchmarks in the RFO scheme. The benchmarks hadn’t changed since 2008 so, inevitably, there has 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 100m2 GIFA. The equivalent under the RFO scheme in now 0.4 tonnes per 100m2 – a 90% reduction in waste! On the face of it, this seems incredibly difficult to achieve and it is an example of how the improved benchmarks are forcing the industry to rethink their approach.

“On Overbury’s 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 100m2 – a real achievement, but still not low enough for 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 upon size, complexity, time-frame and the rating targeted. I have found SKA assessor fees can range from £3k to £10k and BREEAM RFO assessor fees £9k to £25k. 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 research showing an impact on rental values. As time passes, I expect researchers will consider SKA too and it will be interesting to see how the two schemes compare in this way.

“In terms of delivery, it is never too early to consider the environmental assessment options. The new BREEAM RFO scheme ties several actions to certain RIBA stages, forcing early consideration of environmental and sustainability issues, whilst SKA is easier to achieve if considered from initial project development.

“Though it helps, it is not enough to just have a good assessor. Successful assessment delivery is tied directly to the knowledge and understanding of the team. The best projects I have worked on had consultants who have embraced the scheme from the start, as well as a contractor with experience of collating evidence to the necessary detail and quality.

“In summary, 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’s important to communicate how the methodology drove design and delivery decisions, and what this means to the occupants.”

Read the full article on Construction Manager.