Overbury has worked closely with RICS, and other industry partners, to develop a new environmental assessment tool for higher education projects to provide a benchmark for the interior fit out and refurbishment of learning spaces in the UK. An exciting advancement for the sector, SKA for higher education launches with an event this week (8 June).

Joe Croft, head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury, who is on the development and technical committee of SKA, comments: “There has been significant take up of SKA in the higher education sector from universities including University College London (UCL), University of Liverpool, Westminster University and London School of Economics, but feedback was that the offices and retail SKA schemes did not suit some specific higher education spaces such as labs, teaching spaces and lecture theatres. The new scheme incorporates and updates some Good Practice Measures from offices and retail, and introduces new measures to cover the additional higher education spaces.”

Overbury already has an established specialist higher education fit out and refurbishment team that works across the UK, delivering projects for all of The Russell Group universities, as well as a number of higher education clients. These include the University of Salford, Aston University, King’s College London, and the University of Portsmouth, to name a few.

It’s because of this extensive experience that Overbury sits on the development committee for the higher education SKA scheme. The team also attended the technical workshops to form its scope and to research and write first drafts of a number of the Good Practice Measures.

The technical workshops engaged a wide variety of stakeholders, including designers, engineers, higher education facilities teams, higher education sustainability teams, as well as industry bodies such as CCS and FIS.

Warwick University lecture hall

Joe comments: “As part of the research process for a Good Practice Measure, it was important to try and evaluate what represents ‘standard’ and ‘best’ practice. And thus, try and define a middle ground between the two which encourages going beyond standard, but does not require best practice in order to achieve the Good Practice Measure. All draft Good Practice Measures were then reviewed by the SKA technical committee and adjustments made accordingly.”

The new measures include good lab design, air quality impact assessment, furniture storage logistics and a social value plan; a social, economic and environmental plan that can be put in place prior to start on site. This can act as a tool for helping projects to make quantifiable steps across at least four key criteria, which can include materials, work hours and training.

Joe adds: “I believe the scheme will be an invaluable tool to the higher education sector, addressing the varied refurbishments and fit outs within it, from one teaching room to large-scale lab refurbishments.

“Whether institutions want to use it for formal certification or just to use the Good Practice Measures for guidance around ‘what good looks like’ on a particular issue, the tool will provide simple and clear direction.

“As for contractors, some of the Good Practice Measures within the new higher education tool will absolutely drive the sector to think about how it operates. I believe the combination of the tool’s very specific higher education focus and SKA’s simple and engaging philosophy, mean that it has every chance of becoming the sustainability design and implementation tool of choice for the whole UK higher education market. Overbury is really proud to have been a part of this process and of the final scheme which has been produced.”

Elina Grigoriou, design and sustainability director at Grigoriou Interiors and SKA rating technical editor, also comments: “The new SKA for higher education scheme has been developed to better reflect the needs of a hugely influential sector. It’s one of the largest to date – with 131 good practice measures – providing an industry benchmark for all clients, teams and the supply chain to work towards, which better coordinates efforts, harmonises industry terms and incentivises good practice.

“We’ve also seen a large increase in the number of students considering a university’s CSR standards as key selection criteria, so the availability of SKA for higher education could not have been better timed.

“Overall, it’s great that the scheme has been so strongly backed by the sector and, thanks to the success it’s had so far, we’re expecting a strong take-up in use, as well as a significant drive towards sustainable projects throughout higher education property portfolios across the UK.”

For more information visit RICS.