RLB UK’s Head of SKA Consultancy, Heather Evans, looks at the response to nine months of SKA Higher Education:
Nine months on from the release of SKA Higher Education (HE), the response has been fantastic. Universities nationally have embraced the new scheme, with over 100 projects currently in progress.
For those of you that haven’t come across SKA Ratings before, SKA is an environmental assessment method for fit out/refurbishment projects operated by RICS. SKA assesses a project against a variety of sustainability measures, covering Energy, Well-being, Travel, Materials, Waste and more. There are three schemes; Offices, Retail and most recently, Higher Education.
As Development Partners with RICS, RLB were involved from the outset; shaping the criteria and engaging with Higher Education Institutions to understand their project scopes and drivers. Following the release of the scheme, we were proud to certify the first two SKA HE rated projects in the UK. As a successful SKA assessment requires engagement from not only the client but the entire design team, this was a great achievement not only for us but for everyone involved.
Last week, I presented at SKA Higher Education: Explained, along with UCL and Overbury in Birmingham. Both Overbury and UCL were Development Partners alongside RLB, and have championed SKA for many years. This allowed us to provide three perspectives; assessor, contractor and client.
Interestingly, the event was attended predominantly by universities with a range of Estates, Finance and Environmental department representatives. To me, this demonstrated the increasing awareness by a range of disciplines of the benefits of a sustainable university estate. Sustainable estates result in better building performance, reduced operational costs and enhanced wellbeing for the building occupant. A sustainable estate is simply a no-brainer, and inter-departmental collaboration can smooth the way.
However, whilst sustainability is clearly beneficial, the route towards achieving it often doesn’t appear straightforward. We hear a lot of disgruntled comments about BREEAM when applying it to smaller refurbishment and fit out projects. BREEAM is excellent for new builds, and has a well-established place in furthering sustainable buildings. SKA Ratings fill a gap; they provide a flexible, project driven environmental assessment of a refurbishment or fit out project. As SKA HE was developed in conjunction with extensive consultations with universities and championed by AUDE, it was created with universities for universities. You’d be hard pressed to find a more bespoke measurement of sustainability!
We have been involved with c. 10 SKA Higher Education assessments to date. There has been a complete range of projects; listed buildings, executive spaces, collaborative working, student and staff areas, lecture theatres, workshops, retail spaces.
Perhaps surprisingly, reducing operating costs hasn’t been the main driver we have seen behind universities applying SKA. Delivering sustainability plans, improving student experience and enhancing occupant wellbeing have all been instrumental in the success of SKA HE.
The ability to acknowledge estate wide efforts by universities has also been welcomed – achieving measures for having travel plans or furniture logistic frameworks has been a bonus. Recognition that universities often have the ability to enhance not only the project but have a wider campus impact has been well received – as was the capability to easily integrate SKA into estate strategies.
We are in the unique position of having developed, promoted and delivered SKA HE Ratings – being able to see the positive reaction to the scheme has been a really rewarding experience, and we look forward to seeing SKA go from strength to strength in delivering a measure of sustainability for universities.
To learn more about the differences between SKA HE and SKA Offices, or to arrange an introductory session on SKA Ratings, please contact; Heather Evans, Head of SKA Consultancy firstname.lastname@example.org