Improving the Sustainability and Environmental Credentials of UK Fit Out Projects

By Craig Shenton
10th October, 2023

As we move towards a more environmentally conscious future, addressing climate change by implementing sustainability strategies for the benefit of our communities and planet should really be a no brainer for every organisation.

Sustainability and environmental considerations have become increasingly important in the construction industry in recent years and Fit Out contractors in the UK are no exception to this. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that around 11% of construction spending in the UK is on Fit Outs, with some buildings having 30-40 refurbishments throughout their lifecycle. Whilst interior Fit Out projects may appear smaller in scale compared to new construction, they can still have significant impact on the environment due to resource consumption and waste generation.

By adopting the environmentally friendly practices and technologies outlined below throughout every project lifecycle, Fit Out contractors can take meaningful action to reduce their carbon footprint, minimise waste, improve green credentials and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Sustainable Materials and Product Selection

What makes a sustainable material? There are several factors to be taken into consideration with regards to Fit Outs including durability, recyclability, energy-efficiency and renewability - sustainable materials should essentially have the minimum negative impact on the environment.

The use of materials such as certified sustainable timber from responsible sources is a great place to start. Sourcing FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified timber for bespoke joinery, doors, furniture and other wood-based elements of a Fit Out project for example, guarantees that the timber comes from a forest that is managed to strict environmental, social and economic standards, preserving biological diversity and benefitting the lives of local workers whilst sustaining economic viability.

Wherever possible, incorporating recycled and reclaimed materials into Fit Out designs reduces the demand for virgin resources, whilst also decreasing the amount of waste that would otherwise be destined for landfill. Applying the principals of circular economy – reuse, refurbish and recycle - to Fit Out design presents an opportunity to reduce carbon footprint, as well as embodied carbon process (the amount of carbon emitted during the construction) and costs, by reducing the use of unsustainable materials, extending product life and retaining end-of-life value.

Choosing paints and finishes with low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) content reduces the concentration of contaminants in the ozone layer, groundwater and landfill, as well as improving indoor air quality in the workplace. Where possible, opt for products with recognised eco-labels and certifications, such as Energy Star or Cradle to Cradle.

Sourcing materials from local suppliers reduces the distance that materials have to travel, minimising levels of harmful greenhouse gases like carbon and nitrogen dioxide emissions, particularly where large loads of bulky materials are being transported.

It’s also well worth considering off-site manufacturing options and modular construction methods, both of which can significantly contribute to a sustainable construction project by minimising on-site resource consumption and wastage.

Energy Efficiency

By making clever choices in the design of the Fit Out project, not only can you save money on energy costs, but also reduce the environmental impact of the workplace.

Best practices include installing energy-efficient LED lighting systems, using around 80% less energy than traditional bulbs and lasting up to 25 times longer, along with motion sensors and daylight harvesting features to reduce energy consumption. The latest update from the BCO (British Council for Offices) recommends more efficient lighting installations as a key target for creating healthier workplaces whilst reducing carbon emissions. Maximising natural light reduces the need for artificial lighting, having a positive impact on staff wellbeing as well as saving energy.

Utilising energy-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems with smart controls to optimise energy management and considering renewable energy sources and solar panels to generate on-site power, thus reducing reliance on fossil fuels, will also have a significant impact on ensuring the space reaches its maximum energy efficiency potential.

Waste Management

Conducting a detailed waste assessment at the outset of every project is the perfect opportunity to identify waste reduction and recycling potential. 5 million tons of construction and demolition waste are sent to landfill every year, so an effective Fit Out waste management plan with waste diversion strategies to ensure that construction waste is sorted, recycled or repurposed rather than sent to landfill, will undoubtedly have positive environmental implications.

Sustainable Practices

Project teams should ideally pursue the following green building certifications to formalise sustainable practices and improve project environmental performance, as well as encouraging supply chains to work towards achieving higher ratings.

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – a green building certification with focus on sustainable sites, materials and resources, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere and indoor environmental quality. LEED certified buildings aim to reduce carbon emissions and preserve ecosystems while also enhancing health and wellbeing.
  • BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) – a UK certification that evaluates a building’s sustainability specification, design, construction and use against established benchmarks for energy, health and wellbeing, innovation, materials, land use, waste, transport, pollution, management and water. Ratings are ‘outstanding’, ‘excellent’, ‘very good’, ‘good’ and ‘pass’, with the BCO recommending a minimum target of ‘excellent’.
  • SKA – an environmental assessment method, benchmark and standard for commercial, non-domestic Fit Outs, comprising over a hundred good practice measures. A building can be rated SKA Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on its environmental performance.
  • WELL Certification – a performance-based system for measuring and certifying features of a building that impact human health and wellbeing within the ten concepts of air, water, thermal comfort, light, movement, nourishment, sound, mind, community and materials. WELL certification can be platinum, gold, silver or bronze.

Improving UK Fit Out sustainability and environmental credentials is not only essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change and preserving natural resources, but also for meeting regulatory requirements, enhancing brand reputation and attracting environmentally conscious staff and clients. Fit Out contractors should continuously seek innovative solutions, educate their teams, and collaborate with stakeholders to achieve a more sustainable built environment. People are nowadays increasingly drawn towards organisations that prioritise green practices, so a demonstrable corporate social responsibility in your Fit Out design will strengthen your company image and attract eco-conscious talent and clients, as well as contributing significantly to a greener and more environmentally friendly construction industry.

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