Before beginning to look at how housing providers can begin to reduce their carbon emissions it makes some sense to explain exactly what we mean by a housing stock carbon footprint. A housing stock carbon footprint is the sum of all of the carbon each home in a portfolio creates during its physical construction, the carbon created through the ongoing repairs and maintenance of that home as well as the carbon created from the corporate management infrastructure required to deliver housing services. A carbon footprint, therefore, is a useful quantitative tool that can inform the creation and implementation of a broader climate change strategy.
Why Undertake An Analysis Of Your Portfolio’s Carbon Footprint?
Measuring the carbon footprint of your housing portfolio means you can begin to understand and utilise it as a metric. With standardised data, you are able to compare it to sector benchmarks, identify priority areas and actions for reducing emissions and track progress in making those reductions. Measuring the carbon footprint of your portfolio enables you to improve your understanding of the housing stock risks and opportunities that climate change presents. It gives you answers to stakeholder questions on climate change and also allows you to demonstrate publicly your commitment to tackling climate change.
There are two main ways that you can measure your carbon footprint:
- You can measure your footprint up to the point you sell a home to a buyer - after which any related emissions become part of their footprint. Housing developers, for example, will total the footprint up until they sell a home, then the carbon emissions from using the home become that of the purchaser and not the developers.
- You can also choose to measure the footprint across the whole lifecycle of a home. From the sourcing of raw materials, through to ongoing use by the resident and maintaining the home as well as the eventual disposal.
As a result of this, a lot of emphasis by the sector has been put on reducing the carbon footprint of developing new energy-efficient homes and reducing their emissions through improving the energy efficiency of their supply chains and retrofitting their existing housing portfolio’s. This involves improving the design of their future homes, the deployment of new energy efficiency technologies and materials for retrofitting as well as reducing the number of miles travelled for ongoing asset management.
As per government guidelines, housing providers continue to report their housing portfolio energy performance through the use of EPC’s (Energy Performance Certificates). However, housing providers often do not fully quantify the carbon emissions of their supply chain nor do they necessarily factor in the full carbon emissions generated through the ongoing asset management of their homes. There is also often a blind spot when it comes to the effectiveness of the products being used during a retrofit. There is no getting away from the fact that the housing industry has a CO2 problem – both in construction and in on-going usage. The 2019 ‘Fit for the Future’ report compiled by the Committee on Climate Change concluded with the following findings:
“The UK’s legally-binding climate change targets will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings… Emissions reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, while energy use in homes increased between 2016 and 2017.”
How Technology Can Help
A number of different technologies have evolved to help to both track and reduce housing providers carbon emissions. Switchee being one of those. Below we’ve compiled a couple of different areas in which technology can help to reduce the impact of your housing portfolio on the environment:
Most housing providers are currently in the process of retrofitting existing properties, but few are utilising data to fully understand the efficiency of retrofit solutions. 80% of the UK’s homes in the year 2050 have already been built - this makes effective retrofitting as important as ever. Currently, retrofit solutions are deployed on an estate or neighbourhood regeneration scheme with minimal customisation to save cost. This consistently results in properties being fitted with unnecessary equipment and modifications (including ventilation systems, insulation and boiler systems). This expensive - and reduces the overall efficiency of the scheme as unnecessary equipment resources could have been better spent on more specific problem areas. In order to avoid this, data needs to be integrated into the very system of retrofitting. This allows for retrofit customisation at a national level in order to ensure all existing properties are not painted with the same brush. With sensor data and modern computer analytics, retrofit coordinators can be informed of what work needs to be done, and what work can be avoided on a per-property basis. Switchee’s in-built sensor data has been used with significant success in this regard across the country in large-scale retrofit schemes such as Peabody’s regeneration of their Thamesmead estate. This ensures the UK’s considerable existing housing stock is up to the standards required to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Smart Appointment Scheduling
In the consumer world, e-commerce and online shopping has delivered a step-change on how we all conduct our daily lives - providing both efficiency and cost savings for both consumers and businesses. As a result, expectations from service providers have increased proportionally. Residents now often compare housing providers to other consumer service providers in their lives - with an increasing focus on convenience, ease of booking appointments and on service providers arriving at a time most convenient to them. Using technology housing providers can now provide functionality that not only offers an appointment that is convenient for the resident but also reduces cost. These changes have radically reduced the carbon footprint associated with managing the assets. In fact, at Switchee, we’ve seen customers improve their access rates by 70% when utilising our Smart Appointment functionality. By eliminating the typical two additional visits to an appointment, we’ve had a significant impact on the carbon emissions from maintenance vans travelling to complete a visit. This will also be of significance as more cities adopt travel restrictions and charges for travelling into these areas.
So What Does This All Mean?
Typically the housing sectors focus on the use of technology relates predominantly to asset and housing management systems, and more recently resident self-service applications. As the climate emergency becomes a larger and larger focus for organisations and the government as a whole, technology must be used more effectively to counteract large-scale emissions. Through technology, housing providers now have the ability to stream live insights into how that property is performing as well as better understand data on the environmental performance of the building fabric and effects of occupancy. This allows housing managers to make decisions based upon known information, and then to be able to validate how well their interventions have performed to provide proof of real-world energy efficiency improvements.