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Which accreditation or assessment scheme should I use on my project?

Laura Gilbert 22 Jan 2018

As the appetite for sustainable products, buildings and spaces has grown, we have seen an explosion in the number of sustainable credentials and certification schemes available. From high recycled content, to low carbon footprint and ‘gold level accreditations’, there are many options available. One question I get asked is, "which accreditation or assessment scheme is the best, and what should I use on my project?" The answer is not clear-cut. Not only do client objectives differ from project to project, with an ever growing range of schemes and certifications, it can be hard to cut through the confusion of claims and counterclaims of their green credentials in order to compare them.

Even though a building may have 30-40 fit-outs throughout its life, the available sustainability accreditations for fit-out, fixtures, furniture and equipment (FF&E) has historically been given less focus than the design of a building's shell and core. The industry is playing catch up, and there is now a growing range of schemes and certifications that products and buildings can make use of.

Cradle to Cradle offer a Product Certification that demonstrates a manufacturer is committed to improving how a product is made, what it is made of, and is investing in a circular product. This promotes the creation of products that can be easily repaired or refurbished, which ultimately prolongs the longevity of the product. This puts the onus on the manufacturer to appreciate the value in each product in order to recover it once an item has passed its best, and avoid the product becoming waste. This is a great scheme that provides a financial incentive for manufacturers who design for reuse and refurbishment. While this approach is readily applicable to component-based FF&E like office chairs, which are relatively easy to break down into their individual component parts, it is more difficult to implement for others, such as soft seating designs that often bond foam seat pads to the seat base. 

How can product design promote a circular economy?

Another certification offered by Cradle to Cradle is their Material Health Certificate, aimed at products that use chemicals in their manufacturing process. It evaluates the potential human and environmental health risks of each chemical throughout a product's life-cycle and credits manufacturers who know more about the chemicals in their supply chain, use inherently safer chemicals (avoiding chemicals of concern) and make a commitment to continual improvement towards greener chemistry.

If a client wants to look at the broader aspects of a fit-out, accreditation schemes such as the BREEAM Refurbishment and Fit-out Technical Standard, SKA Rating for sustainable fit-outs or the WELL Building Standard are available. They cover much wider issues such as air and water quality, energy efficiency, transport, materials and wellbeing.  

UTC Leeds achieved a Very Good BREEAM Refurbishment and Fit-out score

There are schemes available that focus specifically on building materials, such as the Environmental Profiles Certification Scheme. Provided by the BRE, it provides a standardised way to identify and assess the environmental effects of building materials. Based on a lifecycle assessment for more than 2,000 specifications, the output is a rating system ranging from A+ to E, and all of the products are easily searchable within the BRE’s Greenbook Live facility. However within this scheme the only section relevant to interior and fit-out is ‘Floor Finishes’, a market sector that seems to be more advanced in the adoption of sustainable credentials. In contrast, internal finishes such as ceramic or stone tiles or timber veneers are generally less advanced and there does not seem to be a collative database about their credentials.

This has just skimmed the surface of the many sustainability credentials available to individual products and fit-out projects as a whole, which is a great first step. But a sustainable brief will be client-led, and it can be a daunting task to decipher the claims from reality. There is a lack of one equalising standard to compare them and enable clients to make an informed decision as to which one suits their requirements the best. A collective database of suppliers and a single industry accreditation for fit-out would make comparison much easier. I am sure that as this market sector grows, the schemes will develop into more sophisticated, and hopefully more standardised, assessment methods. 

My advice is to work with your design team to outline what is most important in your brief. For example, a recycled content target does put a value on waste and reduce the amount going to landfill, but could there be a hidden embodied carbon cost if the recycled product has to be manufactured far away? Trust your design team; use their market knowledge and expertise to guide you to the best solution for your project.


Laura Gilbert is a Senior Interior Designer at BAM Design

If you would like to talk to us about sustainability, contact us.



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