Sustainability in the housing sector

  • The climate change imperative will influence social housing providers on asset management
  • Our ongoing reliance on gas and oil to heat homes, businesses and major industry is one of the biggest decarbonisation challenges for the UK in achieving its 2050 net zero goal
  • “Homes need to adapt to the changing climate – and people need to adapt to the way they live in them.” Allison Whittington, Head of Housing, Zurich Municipal

The storms and floods this spring, and the long period of extreme heat this summer – all record-breaking weather events – have been urgent reminders that COVID-19 is not the only global emergency organisations need to respond to.

We need to act on an over-heating climate, where summers will be hotter and drier, winters will be wetter and warmer and flash flooding is likely at any time of year. We also have to adapt to the impacts of climate change – which effect the disadvantaged disproportionately.

Registered social landlords provide homes for those on low wages, those that need support, and the vulnerable. They play an important role in helping to decarbonise the country, as well as creating sustainable housing and resilient communities.

Carbon emissions (including from consumer product use in the home) make housing the third biggest carbon emitter in the country, after energy and transport. In the UK in 2019, approximately 19 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions came from the residential sector, with averaged emissions figures stubbornly sticking at a similar level over the last five years.

New – and different – homes

The UK has 29 million homes, but with a long-term housing shortage, government has an ambition for over 300,000 new homes each year to come to market into the mid 2020s. Although affordable housing accounts for a small percentage of new builds, almost all additional stock of affordable homes is new build.

It is vital this new-build roll-out is truly sustainable, through sustainable construction that is future-proofed, energy efficient and weather resilient, providing opportunities to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, without compromising future resilience of homes and communities.

Fit for the future

New homes only account for 20 per cent of all housing stock, so large scale retrofitting is essential to make housing fit for the future. Various laws and guidance across the UK are setting new standards and targets, changing housing fundamentally.

For example, in Scotland, all social housing should meet EPC Band B (Energy Efficiency rating), or should be as energy efficient as practically possible, by the end of 2032. Energy efficiency and renewables have so far been the success story in recent carbon reduction. The move away from fossil fuels is gathering momentum, with heat pump, biomass, solar power, and green gas (anaerobic digestion) plus emerging hydrogen technology, supporting a growing green marketplace and economy.

Heating alone results in 10 per cent of the nation’s carbon footprint and homes are more significant emitters than all other building types put together.However, carbon neutrality should not be the only driver for transformation.

“Housing providers can be ahead of the curve and ensure that how they build, refurbish and maintain properties is truly sustainable. They can assure business resilience now by exceeding future regulatory and legal requirements. And importantly, create beautiful, successful homes for people to live in.” Says Allison Whittington, Head of Housing at Zurich Municipal.

There’s a lot to do and not much time left to do it. A decarbonising mitigation strategy of improved energy efficiency and emission reduction can be combined with adaptation elements, to make homes comfortable and adaptable, and flood, storm and drought resilient.

How can we help?

Zurich Municipal’s recent whitepaper, The Climate Change Challenge, explores the climate change challenges and opportunities facing public and voluntary sector organisations, and how the risks involved in making this transition can be managed.