A shift in perception
The Shift index measures landlords’ sustainability. Jess McCabe finds out how they score
Is the social housing sector becoming greener? Or is long-term sustainability - homes that are viable for both the planet and landlords, while being comfortable for tenants - still a pipe dream?
As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, famously put it: ‘What gets measured gets managed.’ That’s why consultancy Sustainable Homes asks a series of questions to the members of its Shift group of social landlords which have signed up to improve their sustainability.
Shift members are assessed on 56 measures of sustainability, ranging from energy efficiency to resident engagement and strategy, Andrew Eagles, director of the Sustainable Homes consultancy, explains. ‘The information obtained provides a unique set of data based on 1.2 million social homes: we can use it to measure the sector’s progress in becoming greener,’ he says.
In 2008, 16 housing associations took part in the Shift assessment. As interest grew, new housing providers joined and Shift now comprises of 40 members. Ten new members joined in 2011. Here we compare new entrants in 2011 to new entrants in 2008 and see how times have changed.
Mr Eagles says: ‘It would be interesting and perhaps necessary from a UK perspective to assess the sustainability of the remainder of the [social housing] sector in the same way.’
Feasibility of renewables
The proportion of new Shift members assessing if renewables are appropriate for their existing stock was 23 per cent in 2008 and 34 per cent in 2011, a rise of 11 per cent.
‘This is likely to be a direct result of grant programmes such as the feed-in tariff,’ says Mr Eagles. ‘Although it is likely that many photovoltaic schemes will be cancelled as a result of FIT cuts [announced at the end of last year]. Sustainable Homes believes Shift members should be applauded for having carried out high levels of feasibility studies which has at least meant some schemes will go ahead despite the cuts. It also means they understand what is possible with their homes.’
Office carbon emissions
In the absence of government targets or incentives, it will take longer to improve performance in some areas than others. One example is the carbon footprint of social landlords’ offices. Data from 2008 was not available so the data here is from the 2010 survey, and shows that entrants in 2011 generally had higher emissions per square metre of office space than those of 2010.
This may be because more social landlords are joining Shift at an earlier stage on their journey towards sustainability, says Mr Eagles. ‘A wide variety of organisations have been involved in Shift. In the first year of assessment a number of our members were already quite structured in their approach.
‘We are increasingly seeing a wider range of abilities coming to the group. It is positive that organisations that have more room to improve are coming forward to be assessed, gaining assistance in improving. This may explain why Shift entrants in 2011 were not performing as well on some areas as previous members,’ says Mr Eagles.
Although the Shift average is better than the national average benchmark of 125kg of CO2/m2/yr, this data indicates that the whole sector has a way to go before it meets the best practice benchmark set by the Carbon Trust of 40 kg of CO2/m2/yr.
On the director’s agenda
The proportion of organisations with employees whose function is to work on sustainability has risen by 7 per cent between 2008 and 2011, but interestingly the latest cohort of Shift members are far less likely to have sustainability listed as specific objective for directors than 2008 members.
This may be because a lack of a driver from the government, says Mr Eagles. But he adds: ‘In some cases this does not seem to have affected environmental performance, merely delayed improvements.’
Assessing stock for extreme weather threat
‘Shift was developed with social landlords. One of their top priorities was that Shift ask questions on how well they are adapting to the changing climate,’ says Mr Eagles. Research indicates that as our climate alters, the UK will be more likely to suffer from water shortages, overheating and higher rain fall.
A report by the environment department in January found that by 2050, 3.6 million people will be in homes at risk of flooding.
‘Positively, the number of members that assessed their stock against either water shortages, overheating or higher rainfall has increased in the past two years from 19 per cent in 2008 to 42 per cent in 2011 - an increase of 23 per cent,’ says Mr Eagles.