Refurbishment and Fit-Out sustainability accreditation – BREEAM or SKA?

12 September 2022

With sustainability accreditation becoming increasingly sought-after for developments of all types, our qualified in-house Sustainability teams are well placed to advise clients on the most appropriate certification for their projects. In this paper, Ridge Sustainability Partner Abby Bartlett considers the advantages and disadvantages of the BREEAM Refurbishment & Fit Out (RFO) and SKA assessment methodologies for refurbishment and fit-out schemes.


BREEAM RFO is a well-established standard delivered by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and is applicable to projects that include the refurbishment or fit-out of existing buildings. The scheme consists of many different environmental issues contained within 10 main categories, including Management, Health & Wellbeing, Energy, Ecology, Waste and Innovation.

The New Construction version of BREEAM has existed since 2008 and has been regularly referenced in local authority planning policies across the UK. The RFO version, released in 2014, is generally less well known.

As a UKAS-accredited third-party certification scheme, BREEAM has a very thorough and robust QA process, which is widely recognised throughout the UK and internationally. Achieving a BREEAM rating for your building means that you can benchmark its performance against similar buildings.

To allow for flexibility, the majority of BREEAM criteria are optional, but there are several compulsory criteria that must be met for the targeted score to be achieved. Early engagement with the design team regarding the criteria tends to make the whole assessment process much easier, minimising costs and increasing the chance of a high score being attained. However, there are timing benchmarks which must be met, particularly throughout the early stages of the design process; missing these can make it much harder to achieve the targeted score.

Ridge has undertaken numerous BREEAM assessments, targeting scores ranging from ‘pass’ to ‘outstanding’. While most of these have been under the New Construction scheme, the criteria are very similar for RFO accreditation. Our certified BREEAM Assessors also have experience undertaking RFO assessments.

The most substantial of these is the ongoing refurbishment of India Buildings, a Grade II*-listed complex in the centre of Liverpool, targeting a score of ‘Very Good’. This 86-year-old building, in the heart of the city, is leased to HMRC; 3,500 staff will occupy the ten-storey building.

Other projects for which our Assessors have provided BREEAM RFO assessment services include the ground floor fit-out of Southdown View in Portsmouth (‘Pass’), Manor Retail Park in Rustington (‘Good’) and pre-assessment services for Barbirolli Square in Manchester (‘Excellent’), Derby Hospital (‘Excellent’) and the Arts House refurbishment for the University of Worcester (Very Good). We have also conducted RFO assessments on projects as diverse as Moss Side Leisure Centre, West Cumberland Hospital, Manchester Velodrome, HMRC New Bailey in Salford, HMP Liverpool H Wing, Tameside Hospital Emergency Department and Merseyway Innovation Centre.

SKA Rating

SKA is an environmental assessment method, benchmark and standard for non-domestic fit-outs, led and owned by Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).’ It contains over 100 ‘good practice’ measures within nine categories, including Project Delivery, Wellbeing, Energy, Materials, Waste and Ecology.

The scheme is designed to be flexible, so design teams can filter many measures out of the assessment if they are considered non-applicable. However, there several gateway measures that must be met to ensure that design teams do not inappropriately focus on just the easiest measures.

As with BREEAM, there are different types of SKA assessments. It is free to register for a SKA assessment, after which there are stages to achieving certification: Design/Planning, Delivery/Construction and Occupancy (optional). Upon accreditation, a rating ranging from Bronze to Gold will be attained, depending on the number of ‘measures’ and ‘gateways’ achieved.

Although the decision was made not to achieve formal certification, Ridge used the SKA methodology at Bournemouth University on the refurbishment of Poole House.

Which is best to use?

Both BREEAM RFO and SKA offer established and robust ways of assessing and certifying the sustainability refurbishment and fit-out works. Both methodologies are adaptable, allowing items that are not part of the proposals to be scoped out; for example, BREEAM RFO is split into four parts, and any parts which are not part of the proposed works can be filtered out if irrelevant, while SKA operates in a similar way but provides a greater degree of flexibility, allowing project teams to determine for themselves what is and isn’t applicable. This flexibility can be a great advantage for smaller fit-out projects which would struggle to meet the more onerous BREEAM requirements.

BREEAM methodology is more widely recognised, allowing clients to benchmark their building against similar buildings around the UK. Furthermore, as BREEAM is a UKAS-accredited assessment scheme, the QA process is very robust and BREEAM certification is highly regarded. The SKA process is less well known within the industry, but it is gaining recognition, although it is only available for office, retail and higher education projects.

The BRE offers rapid support throughout the working day via their live chat function, should it be required. By contrast, the support services in place for SKA are less established and can be less responsive. However, achieving a SKA rating is a more informal process and is widely perceived to be more flexible and easier to achieve.

Ridge takes the view that a BREEAM RFO assessment is the most appropriate accreditation for most refurbishment and fit-out schemes, based upon our previous experience and the inherent value of widely respected and accepted certification.

However, the choice of accreditation scheme will depend on the client’s specific drivers and, if cost is a significant issue, then SKA provides a cheaper, if less robust, alternative for gaining sustainability recognition for a scheme. Our expert staff can help clients establish which course is right for their requirements.

For more information, please contact:

Abby Bartlett
Partner (Sustainability)