Overbury achieves the first ever SKA HE gold accreditation for University College London project.

National fit out and refurbishment specialist, Overbury and independent construction, property and management consultant, Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) have delivered and assessed an award-winning fit out for University College London (UCL), achieving the first SKA for Higher Education (SKA HE) Gold rating.

Supporting the relocation of over 300 UCL staff from Euston to St Martin’s Le Grand, the £1 million project transformed 24,000 sq ft of office accommodation into a collaborative, high-quality open plan workspace, which features breakout areas with tea points, a café-style kitchen, meeting rooms of varying sizes and touch-down areas for agile working.

As an important driver of the fit out, UCL wanted to achieve a SKA HE rating to reflect its sustainable values and ethos. More than 40 of UCL’s recent fit out projects have been assessed using versions of the SKA rating system, however targeting Gold under the new education-specific scheme presents an opportunity to raise the bar further, says Ben Stubbs, Sustainability Manager for UCL. Additionally, UCL, Overbury and RLB were all development partners of SKA HE which meant that the project team could confidently tackle the challenge of securing the highest rating, a Gold.

At the outset, the team held a pre-assessment workshop to outline the sustainability and environmental considerations of the project in line with the targeted Good Practice Measures (GPMs), SKA’s rating ‘points’. To achieve Gold, at least 75% of GPMs that fall within the scope of a fit out programme must be adhered to and verified – these include energy and CO2, materials, project delivery, transport, waste, wellbeing, pollution, water and ecology measures.

Environmental and sustainability highlights of the project include:

  • To reduce waste and transportation to site as much as possible, packaging on deliveries had to be reusable and suppliers were encouraged to think about innovative delivery systems and take-back systems. For example, glazed partitions were delivered in a bespoke A-frame carrier which is able to carry eight door frames at a time, instead of four. Pallets were returned and all cable drums were collected by the electric cable supplier, while blinds and plumbing were all in reusable wrapping. Paint supplier Prodec also collected excess paint containers.
  • Minimising plasterboard waste by reusing offcuts and carefully managing orders and deliveries resulted in a very low wastage rate of 4.3%. The GPM requirement sets the benchmark at 15% or less.
  • 86% of existing carpet was reused within the office, including some left onsite for future maintenance works, with the remaining 14% collected by the carpet manufacturer Desso, as part of its take-back scheme.
  • Lights were reused where possible, and if replaced were LED to improve energy efficiency. The office is below street level so careful attention was paid to providing a variety of lighting, and in some areas reflective surfaces, to mimic natural light.
  • Every effort was made to source sustainable materials including those with high-recycled content or environmental product certifications (such as ‘Cradle to Cradle’) and all timber was FSC or PEFC certified.
  • To ensure optimum air quality during the fit out, sensors were used to monitor VOC levels and low-VOC paint was used. The building management system has also been enhanced with integrated CO2 sensors, which have been commissioned to trigger the release of fresh air into the office at certain CO2 thresholds.
  • Mindful of the health and safety of those working onsite and other occupants in the building, a noise app was used to ensure that noisy works were kept to a minimum. UCL staff will also benefit from the installation of noise-absorbing ceiling panels to mitigate the distractions of the open plan environment. Serving a dual purpose as a biophilic feature, these panels are inspired by clouds and have been designed to bring a sense of nature into the office.

Ben Stubbs, Sustainability Manager for UCL continues: “Delivering a sustainable estate is a key part of UCL’s 20-year institutional strategy and assessment tools like SKA HE are essential for managing and measuring our progress. As contributors to the new SKA HE scheme, we’re delighted to have also achieved the first Gold rating which was managed and assessed by sustainability experts at Overbury and Rider Levitt Bucknall. This helps us demonstrate exemplary building performance in a number of key areas including energy, materials, water consumption and waste management.

“SKA HE was officially launched at UCL twelve months ago and to complete our first project closes the loop in our journey, from development partners to having embedded the SKA HE sustainability principles into our projects. We have a number of live SKA HE projects and we can now be confident of getting further Gold certifications.”

Camilla Read, Environmental and Sustainability Manager at Overbury adds: “SKA HE is an invaluable tool for the higher education sector as it addresses the varied projects of our clients and provides a benchmark for what good looks like. We’re delighted to see so many of our clients taking an interest in sustainable fit out, and it’s clear that UCL is leading from the front.

“Having had a role in developing the scheme, we’re encouraged to see its real-life impact onsite and are proud to have helped UCL achieve what it set out to do. Every effort was made to embed SKA into all aspects of the fit out and we’re grateful to our supply chain for rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in – it was a real team effort.”

Heather Evans, Head of SKA Consultancy at RLB says: “As Development Partners for SKA HE, we are delighted to be able to award the first ever Gold rating to UCL. This is a fantastic achievement and a real reflection of the University’s ongoing commitment to sustainable values. The collaboration between the entire team from the outset to achieve SKA HE Gold was key to the project’s success.

“It’s been an exciting time since SKA HE was launched twelve months ago at UCL, as we are seeing an increasing number of universities embrace the scheme to support their drive for a sustainable estate.”