The design principles, operational decisions and selection of materials and products will significantly impact the carbon emissions of a fit out project. Their impact on the environment will continue throughout the entire life cycle of your building.

Design principles

Bottomline Technologies, Reading - Certified SKA Gold
  • A minimalist design is a good design

    A minimalist design is a good design

    • Ensure the design does not incorporate the unnecessary use of materials
    • Choose a design that uses minimal finishes, paints, wall coverings and plastering
    • Maximise occupancy with the least amount of furniture
    • Minimise storage to encourage more electronic archiving
    • Consider open plan space to avoid unnecessary partitions
    • Use random, non-linear patterned finishes, such as carpets, where you can easily replace one tile with another without having to replace the whole floor
    • Carry out the design process with factory prefabrication in mind - in order to avoid waste by procuring, pre-finishing or prefabricating to set lengths
  • Flexibility

    • Design using elements which allow the space to be easily adjusted for future changes in use or occupancy e.g. demountable partitions
    • Design to include hot desk or flexible locations
    • Consider how to allow areas or whole floors with low occupancy to be ‘closed’ at certain times. For example, leave only one floor open outside normal working hours to reduce energy use during very low occupancy times
    • Use random, non-linear patterned finishes, such as carpets, where you can easily replace one tile with another without having to replace the whole floor
    • Carry out the design process with factory prefabrication in mind - in order to avoid waste by procuring, pre-finishing or prefabricating to set lengths
  • Layering

    ‘During refits or refurbishment, the ability to peel off layers and apply new ones ensures that the neighbouring layers are undamaged.’
    -Handbook to Building a Circular Economy
    • Rather than refit an entire office, look to retain some of the ‘layers’ and reconfigure the space to meet the new needs of the occupants
    • Have a look at Morgan Lovell’s insight paper on the Circular Economy for more information
  • Deconstruction

    • Design for low carbon deconstruction by considering how the space and its products will be taken apart or reused at end-of-life
    • Ensure the information regarding the layering of components is passed on in a deconstruction guide
    • Ensure the information regarding material take-back schemes is passed on in a deconstruction guide
Generation Investment Management - Certified SKA Gold

Design for low operational carbon

Consider undertaking an energy model, such as TM54 or NABERS to better understand the anticipated operational energy requirements of your space. Work with your project team to model alternative engineering solutions to drive down energy intensity.

  • Lighting

    • Lighting Control systems are often the easiest way to save energy
    • Choose light fittings with built-in daylight sensors and dimming capability, to make the most of your natural light
    • Use zoned lighting, with separate occupant override controls
    • Install infrared motion detectors for automatic lighting control
    • Install timers to shut off lighting on weekends and at night
    • Select energy-efficient lighting such as LED
    • Resist the temptation for too much feature lighting which often only serves aesthetic purposes
    • Investigate the refurbishment and conversion of old fluorescent fittings to LED, swap out drivers and controls and reuse the light body and diffuser or louvre
  • Heating

    • Generate free energy through solar PV
    • Assess renewable energy options in order to purchase efficiently
    • Investigate alternatives to high carbon gas-fired systems (such as air source, ground source, water source heat pumps)
    • Look at opportunities to use waste or rejected heat (such as that derived from communications room coolers or chillers) to pre-heat domestic water (such as showers)
    • Consider carrying out a thermal image scan of the building to see where heat is escaping (such as thermal bridges, failed double glazing, poor or missing insulation) and rectify any issues
    • Recommission existing heating controls and create more controlled zones to improve space heating
  • Alternative fuel

    • Consider using renewable fuels: HVO fuel for example reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% for generators versus traditional diesel equivalents
Pollen House, London - Certified SKA Gold

Material and product selection

Embodied carbon is the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) emitted during the extraction, manufacture, transportation and assembly of materials and products. It makes up around 10% of all global emissions each year.

Materials must be carefully considered and low embodied carbon products can be selected to ensure you significantly reduce the impact of your fit out project.

  • Monitor, calculate and reduce embodied carbon

    • Undertake an initial embodied carbon assessment of the project to identify the largest sources of embodied carbon
    • Work with a project team who can support the specification of lower carbon materials
    • Engage manufacturers who consider, report and reduce the carbon impact of their own products
    • Assess the Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) of the materials sourced
    • If product EPDs are not available, consider what could be used as alternatives for assessing the carbon impact
    • Use an embodied carbon calculator to visualise and measure the carbon impact of design decisions
    • Identify ways in which the largest sources of embodied carbon can be reduced: e.g. swap out one material with another; redesign the space so it doesn’t need that element; reuse products instead of buying virgin ones
    • Pre-refurbishment materials audit
    • Assess and quantify what materials are currently available to reuse, for example furniture
    • Assess what elements can remain in situ including partitions, ceilings and M&E equipment
    • Determine the potential for repair of existing materials and products
    • Determine the potential for reuse of existing materials and products by others
  • Supplier selection

    • Assess the environmental responsibility of the supply chain for all materials and products
    • Focus on the availability of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), then use the contents of the EPD to inform decision making
    • Determine whether you can source materials from local suppliers
    • Consider the longevity of products and materials installed by selecting suppliers and materials with long product guarantees relative to embodied carbon
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    • Reducing VOCs is traditionally focused on improving air quality. However, VOCs are in fact greenhouse gases and therefore contribute to climate change, so reducing VOCs also reduces the carbon impact of a project
    • When assessing the carbon impact of a project, you need to include areas which incorporate the highest volumes of VOCs
    • VOCs are most commonly found in these products:
      – paints
      – varnishes
      – coatings
      – adhesives
      – sealants
      – composite wood products
      – carpets and associated adhesives
      – furniture
    • Communicate VOC requirements to sub-contractors
  • Drive 'circular economy' principles

    • Determine the potential for sourcing products with a high recycled content
    • Investigate ‘direct-recycling take-back’ schemes for stripped-out materials and off-cuts
    • Avoid manufacturers who use all virgin materials particularly where good recycled content alternatives are available
    • Consider whether a product can easily be reused at the end of its lifecycle
    • Avoid use of composite materials and PVC that are difficult to recycle or separate at the end of their life
    • Minimise the use of adhesives (as they make it harder to take products apart without causing damage)
    • If products are selected that cannot be reused, consider whether they can be disassembled and recycled
  • Ongoing maintenance

    • Install products that can be easily repaired or have replacement parts available
    • Where possible use mechanical fastenings rather than glues and adhesives
    • Ensure materials and equipment are easily accessed via access wall panels and ceilings for concealed plant
    • Explore leasing products as an alternative to buying them (as an incentive for manufacturers to create products which can be easily maintained and have residual value that can be extracted at end-of-life)
  • Sustainable timber

    Timber acts as a carbon sink - it prevents CO2 being released back into the atmosphere. Therefore, as long as your timber is sustainably sourced, the more timber you use in your fit out, the better.

    • Look for opportunities to use reclaimed timber
    • Where reclaimed timber cannot be sourced, ensure any timber on the project is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified
    • Communicate effectively with all subcontractors that only FSC and PEFC timber can purchased and ensure certificates are obtained before any order is placed
    • Obtain delivery notes and invoices for all timber deliveries with chain of custody numbers recorded
    • Look for opportunities to procure timber grown (relatively) locally
MarketAxess, London - Certified SKA Gold