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Build Smart, Build Green

Wednesday 28 October 2020 Property Development

Martha Dobbs's picture
By Martha Dobbs

A recent blog post from Tom Fletcher-Wilson detailed the new message conveyed by the UK government to ‘build, build, build’. This follows changes in planning regulations and a £450million injection into the Home Building Fund to incentivise housebuilders to construct and consequently tackle the UK housing shortage. However, meeting the housing shortage need not be the only objective for housebuilders, as building ‘green’ is becoming ever more of a necessity.

The UK has committed to a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and in doing so, has positioned tackling climate change high up on the political agenda. But in the context of increasing homebuilding activity, how can the housing sector play its part in reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions and meeting decarbonisation targets?

Low-carbon housing is a viable alternative to traditional housing, where emissions are significantly reduced through alternative building materials, embodied technology and increased energy efficiency. These measures act to radically reduce the carbon footprint of housing. Whilst these developments aren’t exactly new - (BedZed in London is considered one of the first and most famous low-carbon developments, constructed in 2002) – they aren’t particularly widespread in the current built environment, and private developers with green aspirations are mostly driving this trend. Little Kelham in Sheffield and The Climate Innovation District in Leeds, developed by Citu, are examples of new developments where timber framing, triple glazed windows and a mechanical heat ventilation recovery system act to significantly reduce the carbon footprint.

The benefits of low-carbon housing are enhanced when scaled-up to a community level, however the true potential of a low-carbon community may only be achieved if the occupants also demonstrate pro-environmental behaviour. Pro-environmental behaviour can mean behaviour that seeks to minimise a person’s negative impact on the natural and built world, for example recycling more or driving less. Whilst a fabric-first approach may generate a significant reduction in emissions, emphasis should also be placed on the importance of household behaviour in reducing emissions. A low-carbon dwelling may be built with embodied technology which allows the resident to ‘switch off’ all appliances when leaving the house to reduce energy consumption, however, this will only be effective if the resident is motivated to switch the appliances off. This resonates with the need to match people with place when building a development.

CACI can inform developers to build the right units, in the right places for the right people. Data on a range of measures such as a potential buyer’s likelihood to move, their affordability and which locations to best advertise the development means that the prime tenant mix can be obtained. Not only this, but data about lifestyles and attitudes can also be obtained. Therefore, a true low-carbon development could succeed by using this insight to target potential buyers with existing pro-environmental behaviour or those who strongly value climate change in order to scale up the benefits.

Currently, dwellings in these developments are expensive, meaning the resident mix is mostly comprised of affluent groups. However, as the supply grows, price will decrease and low-carbon housing developments will become normalised. In turn, pro-environmental behaviour will spread both within residents’ lifestyle domains and to a third-party. If more developers embrace the benefits of building low-carbon and use insight to attract residents demonstrating pro-environmental behaviour, then the development’s effectiveness will be maximised and the likelihood of the UK meeting its 2050 emissions target will increase.

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Low-carbon housing is a viable alternative to traditional housing, where emissions are significantly reduced through alternative building materials, embodied technology and increased energy efficiency.

Build Smart, Build Green