Why Sustainability is so important in the affordable housing sector

Ben Malton, Partnerships Manager, Switchee

With so many other priorities for housing providers, sustainability can sometimes seem like an uphill battle.

It has to compete for a budget with other maintenance and construction projects, requires lots of careful strategies and it can be forgotten easily by internal staff due to its long-term nature. However, housing providers must continue to pursue sustainability and power efficiency as aggressively as they can because affordable housing could be one of the biggest influences in reducing carbon emissions in the UK and throughout Europe.

Sustainability is part of affordable housing providers’ social mission

The basis for non-profit housing associations is that they are “formed for the benefit of the community. Its objects shall be to carry on for the benefit of the community”. This is the mantra that guides all social housing providers – to help provide for their community a better quality of life through housing. Sustainability is part of that mission partly to reduce fuel costs and partly to halt global warming. Fuel cost increases are a part of life for most social housing residents, but sustainability measures can help to reduce these considerably and without cost to the resident. This is a direct benefit to the resident brought about by energy efficiency measures. Arguably a far greater threat to a housing providers community, however, is the global warming phenomenon that is currently taking place. The potential for it to change the very environment of this planet should be of the greatest concern for those looking to provide the most good to their communities. As such – providing energy efficiency measures, educating residents on reducing energy wastage and investing in green energy should all be at the top of the list of measures needed ‘for the benefit of the community’.

Protecting and improving communities is the most crucial job that housing associations should strive for

Those in social housing are the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming

With a large proportion of the UK’s vulnerable and elderly population under the social housing banner, the effects of global warming are going to be most damaging to these groups. Carbon Brief, for example, analysed a vast number of scientific papers and found that “68% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43% such events, droughts make up 17% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16%”. This increase in extreme weather phenomenon is going to result in increased seasonal deaths – which in recent years are already spiking with 2019’s summer heatwave producing a 36% increase in deaths during the period. Taking steps to combat this now is a necessary step in helping keep vulnerable and elderly residents safe, whilst at the same time helping save the planet.

Affordable housing providers can provide scale unmatched by any other industry

With over 4 million homes considered affordable housing – small changes across an entire portfolio add up to tremendous savings. For example, with the installation of a Switchee in every one of Clarions 110,000 properties, they alone could be saving 192,000 tonnes of CO2 in 10 years. This is the same amount of CO2 as taking 25,478 cars off the road for a whole year. All from just one smart thermostat. With wide-scale changes, affordable housing providers have the potential to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by a significant percentage. This scale also reduces installation costs, with economies of scale helping to lower the cost of installation as well as maintenance. With economic incentives beginning to line up with sustainability goals, the potential for widescale change is huge. Simply increasing the efficiency of existing systems like boilers and insulation can have wide-reaching effects on decarbonisation targets and with the addition of new and innovative technologies, social housing could become one of the greenest industries in the UK today.

Sustainability is one of the most important parts of an affordable housing provider’s social mission

For all of the reasons above, sustainability should be getting a far greater focus from social housing providers as a course of action that provides long-term benefits. Whilst the costs for doing nothing are difficult to calculate the effects of global warming will certainly hit social housing residents worse than any other sector of the housing market. It is therefore imperative that sustainability improvements be made, and innovative technologies deployed to help with this.


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