The delivery of sustainable homes is a global problem and providers in the UK can learn a lot from their counterparts around the world, says Neil Jefferson
When dealing with challenges in the delivery of sustainable housing, it is important to look at the approaches taken and progress made by countries around the world.
Future growth is a fundamental consideration for policy makers and developers alike and, when faced with a scarce supply of new homes from the outset, the challenge of achieving emission reduction targets can become daunting. Immediate concerns can turn to one of quantity rather than quality of housing delivery - a quandary that emerging economies such as South Africa and Brazil are grappling with at present. Brazil’s urgent need for adequate housing has catalysed the growth of the construction industry over the past decade, posing unique problems as speed may take precedence over sustainable materials and practices.
The limited supply of new homes is not unique to emerging economies - here in the UK there is a housing shortage. Should there be a greater focus, or perhaps greater incentives for building to recognised, higher standards? Could learning from other countries, like the use of prefabricated homes in Japan, contribute more to opportunities for the widespread implementation of low carbon measures in the UK?
Every little helps
Reducing emissions from housing across the world is seen as key to meeting global carbon emission reduction targets. As well as the introduction of passive energy-efficiency measures, practical steps can be taken at household level, through the installation of user-friendly control technology coupled with advice to help both reduce emissions and lower household bills. There is growing awareness of the importance of small, relatively low-cost changes that, if accepted and applied widely, can have significant impact.
Energy supply is also receiving increased scrutiny, with many countries aiming to improve their energy mix to ensure long term sustainable supply. In the UK, less than 2 per cent of energy use in the residential sector comes from non-fossil fuel sources and mainly from nuclear power. New Zealand, in comparison, can boast more than 60 per cent with hydro-electric forming the majority. The feed-in tariff and forthcoming renewable heat incentive and green deal will offer opportunities for UK households to contribute to a reduction in household emissions. Much like the ‘One degree less’ project in Brazil, which promotes the use of white roofs on buildings and white pavements as part of a strategy to combat climate change and reduce the urban heat effect, they will aim to promote widespread change.
For the UK, which at present is facing dual pressures of the struggling economy and the rapidly approaching target for all new homes to meet the zero carbon standard by 2016, it is very encouraging that we are on schedule to meet our emission reduction commitments. However, these efforts must be sustained as we begin to tackle more challenging emission reductions. In September, NHBC Foundation, in partnership with Zero Carbon Hub and PRP Architects, launched the 2011 edition of the Zero Carbon Compendium, an international reference for housing professionals to assess what is happening in new housing around the world. The 2011 compendium provides new case studies and updates details on key initiatives and policies for each country in an easy to navigate format.
The 2011 compendium highlights a catalogue of approaches that are worthwhile considerations in the delivery of sustainable housing worldwide.
Neil Jefferson is director of NHBC Foundation