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How sustainability tools can improve efficiencies


Two landlords are making cost savings and using resources efficiently with a tool used to gauge their environmental performance

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An Optivo home that took part in the Innovation for Renewal (IFORE) retrofit scheme
An Optivo home that took part in the Innovation for Renewal (IFORE) retrofit scheme

Article written in partnership with


Journey to efficiency

Homes managed: 44,000
SHIFT rating: TBC (Gold pre-merger)
Outcomes: Cost savings for tenants and organisation

All sustainability journeys have to start from somewhere. For AmicusHorizon, now 44,000-home Optivo, this was with a major sustainability strategy aimed at transforming the organisation’s sustainability processes.

The challenge, says Andrew Piper, sustainability manager at Optivo, was figuring out how the landlord could best measure its environmental performance.

The answer came in the form of gaining accreditation to the SHIFT ratings. Managed by Sustainable Homes, SHIFT is an assessment tool designed to measure what housing organisations are achieving in the field of sustainability.

“Because we were just starting out, it made sense to sign up to the tools that had been designed specifically for the sector and it really helped us focus on the right things and set targets to improve in future,” says Mr Piper.

The landlord signed up to SHIFT in 2011 and has not looked back since.

SHIFT implements a rating accreditation system – ranging from Bronze to Platinum – to denote performance. Sustainable Homes works with housing providers to develop a plan to help improve their environmental performance year on year in order to move up the ranks.

In its first accreditation in 2012, AmicusHorizon achieved SHIFT Bronze, but by 2016 its rating had surged to SHIFT Gold. It was also named the best performing SHIFT large landlord in the sector that same year.

“From going in five years to not having any information or data about how we were doing as an organisation to becoming the best large landlord with SHIFT Gold was a significant improvement,” Mr Piper explains.

The landlord’s achievements during that period are impressive. For example, it has collected energy performance data for more than 90% of its homes.

What’s more, it has saved more than £70,000 a year on office energy costs and £200,000 a year on business travel costs since entering the SHIFT accreditation programme.

The benefits of the landlord’s extensive sustainability programme have also helped tenants to better understand their energy bills.

“Over half of our residents have received high-quality face-to-face energy advice,” says Mr Piper.

“We’ve also saved our residents £500,000 a year on metered water bills, the equivalent of 80 Olympic-sized
swimming pools a year.”

SHIFT has also offered major operational advantages to Optivo. The new organisation has been created through the recent merger of AmicusHorizon and Viridian Housing, the latter of which was also accredited as SHIFT Gold in 2016.

The index has conveniently provided a vehicle through which both organisations could ensure that their sustainability goals aligned.

“Because we’re both using SHIFT, it allows us to directly benchmark against each other. So it has really helped us to identify how we’re performing and where similarities are, and where one organisation is doing better than the other. That’s been incredibly helpful,” Mr Piper says.

Although it is too early to say what the sustainability targets will be for the merged organisation, there are some clear goals the landlord has in mind which SHIFT will help it achieve.

“The new organisation will very much be focused on reducing our operational costs and SHIFT again really helps you to identify where those cost savings are,” he concludes.

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Sustainable Homes is assessing post-occupancy houses at Naylorsfield Drive in Liverpool
Sustainable Homes is assessing post-occupancy houses at Naylorsfield Drive in Liverpool

Liverpool Mutual Homes

Learning from others

Homes managed: 15,000
SHIFT rating: Silver
Outcome: Suitable vehicle for benchmarking sustainability

With housing association expenditure on sustainability being squeezed in recent years thanks to rent cuts and welfare reform, it has become more important than ever that organisations are savvy with their investments.

For 15,000-home Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) this meant learning what does and does not work from its peers in the sector.

“Having other people’s advice, experience and learning means we can do more for less, which is what we’re always getting asked to do,” says Julia Thorpe, sustainability officer at Liverpool Mutual Homes. “Other associations may have tried ‘x’ and ‘y’, but only succeeded with ‘z’, so that allows us to start from ‘z’ for our learning.”

LMH joined SHIFT in 2013 in part thanks to the peer learning schemes offered under the programme. Conferences and workshops are offered on a regular basis, which enables members to learn what other housing associations are doing.

“You hear what the trials of new technologies have done and that can either scare us into thinking twice about something or it can encourage us to try new things,” Ms Thorpe adds.

Also appealing for LMH were the benchmarking opportunities that SHIFT offered.

“At the time, we knew what we were doing on environmental sustainability, but we didn’t really know how this compared with others in the sector,” Ms Thorpe says.

“We thought [SHIFT] would be a really good way to benchmark ourselves against other registered providers and make sure we were doing enough.”

Ms Thorpe says that Liverpool Mutual Homes has experienced an increase in environmental performance since joining SHIFT. A Silver accreditation was achieved in the association’s first assessment, and in its second assessment, it achieved Silver again, but with improved performance.

“The next step is to get Gold in our next assessment. So it’s helped to drive our momentum on sustainability,” she says.

Working towards SHIFT accreditation has also helped LMH to better plan out and track its sustainability process.

All of its sustainability actions are put on a management system that gets updated on a quarterly basis. This tracks progress against a whole suite of environmental sustainability indicators and can be used to identify what areas are doing well and what is falling behind.

“We report that progress to management to say ‘look at all the fabulous things we’ve done’, or ‘this is where we need to improve’,” says Ms Thorpe.

Liverpool Mutual Homes is also working with Sustainable Homes outside of SHIFT. The organisation is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations on Naylorsfield Drive in Liverpool, looking at the environmental sustainability of the modular build system that LMH has used on the development.

Ms Thorpe hopes the findings from the study will help inform the landlord as to the viability of modular building from a sustainability perspective.

“We’ve got all the information on the cost and the timescales but Sustainable Homes are helping by speaking to the tenants, looking at all the energy bills and working out from an environmental point of view whether it had the benefits we hoped it would.”

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