Bringing SKA back to school

Joe Croft, head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury, examines a challenging environmental assessment method for higher education fit-outs.

There is a real desire for environmental sustainability within the higher education sector. To address that, the SKA for higher education (SKA HE) scheme was established last year in order to reflect the specific needs of educational facilities, especially as many institutions are housed within grand, historic buildings and present a whole new set of challenges. Unlike previ- ous SKA schemes or other ratings systems, SKA HE has been specially tailored by the industry to take into account the specialist nature of higher education and its spaces, such as lecture theatres, research laboratories, and teaching spaces.

Having extensive sustainability experience, Overbury was invited to sit on a development committee for SKA HE and help shape a new ratings system. The SKA HE committee engaged with a number of higher education institutions to create the new standard; each area of the higher education sector has been considered and benchmarks have been set.

Beyond standard

As a result, 131 good practice measures (GPMs) were developed and each only assesses against the criteria that relate to particular project. In comparison to BREEAM, where the total number of credits forms the final sustainability score, the SKA tool is more ‘scopeable’, making it appropriate for projects of all types, sizes and complexities.

SKA HE also challenges good practice within the sector, rather than simply satisfying current industry standards. As part of the research process for a GPM, it was important re-evaluate what represents ‘standard’ and ‘best’ practice. This meant defining a middle ground where architects would be encouraged to go ‘beyond standard’ without necessarily adopting best practice in order to achieve the GPM.

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.

Silver rating

In practice, the SKA HE assessment proved challenging but achievable through careful planning and collaboration with the project teams. Overbury recently completed a £2.1m, 20,000 ft² project for the London School of Economics (LSE) on Portugal Street in central London. The key objective of the project was to create a ‘one-stop shop’ for student services known as LSE Life, which created a mix of social, quiet and collaborative areas. On completion, the LSE Life project achieved both a SKA for Offices Gold rating, and the newer and more challenging SKA for HE Silver rating.

Working with Architecture PLB, the project team embraced the concept of demonstrating social value actions through operating under the Considerate Constructors Scheme and drew up a Social Economic & Environmental Plan for the project. Specific actions that helped the team to achieve these measures included sourcing local materials and labour and having apprentices and graduates working on site. The multi-use space was designed and built with well-being in mind, including efficient lighting and ventilation levels. Material selection ensured that furniture, construction materials and finishes were chosen for their environmental credentials, and all timber was FSC-certified.

Having worked with RICS to develop the SKA HE rating, we had the ability to see first-hand the differences when meeting requirements and assessing the project on both schemes – an invaluable learning experience for the entire project team. The ratings demonstrate that the new SKA HE scheme has pushed crite- ria to reflect advancements in good practice across the industry while also addressing higher education-specific requirements. Full engagement by the design team resulted in a successful, sustainable fit-out which achieved a SKA HE Silver rating and paved the way for future SKA HE projects.

Joe Croft is head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury (and Morgan Lovell)