The social housing sector knows it has a big role to play in helping the country reduce its carbon emissions and achieve the government’s target of a net-zero carbon society by 2050. But there are questions remaining around whether the materials, methods, standards and practices the sector utilises are up to the challenge.
At Wienerberger we’ve been supplying wall, roof and landscaping solutions to the social housing sector for many years. To find out more about how those involved in the design, construction and maintenance of these buildings have been getting to grips with environmental concerns, we asked 150 decision makers in the social housing sector about the sustainability problems they’re facing and how to overcome them.
In our research, nine in ten social housing construction professionals believe the sector requires new guidelines from the government in order to know what standard of sustainable construction it needs to meet. Via our research, Nick Gornall, head of development at Great Places Housing Group, summed up the problem: “The industry has no guidance on the standard of products that will be required to meet the targets, so we don’t know if the housing stock we’re building or the changes we’re making to existing stock will be good enough to meet future sustainability standards.”
Many stakeholders in the sector feel that with a clear, strategic and collaborative approach, reaching these targets is do-able. “The industry has time,” said Phil Pemberton, Director of Asset Strategy and Delivery at Riverside. “…it just needs a strategic plan for how to get there.” However, the time remaining for the government to provide this information may be running out, as 29% of people we spoke with said that to meet the 2050 target the government needs to provide further guidance in the first half of 2021.
Last year, there was hope in the sector that the Social Housing whitepaper would provide the guidance they were looking for. However, it was announced that this information would form part of the Decent Homes Standard review which is due in the Autumn. This information is going to be particularly useful for housing associations that need to accurately factor decarbonisation into their budgets, since costs are likely to be incurred when making changes to housing stock retrospectively, rather than as part of the original design.
In addition to a lack of guidelines, insufficient understanding around what constitutes a sustainable home and how to build in an energy efficient manner were often cited as key challenges. For this reason, it’s important to proactively discuss the use of environmentally friendly technologies to help decision makers understand the sustainable options available. At Wienerberger we frequently see this with building envelopes and is one of the reasons why we advocate clay walling solutions, due to the low carbon dioxide emissions, long life cycles and energy efficiency advantages this material provides.
When it comes to building materials, it’s also important for the sector at large to be able to scale up its delivery of sustainable housing solutions, such as those mentioned above, while reducing costs. This will help councils and housing associations, who have been dealing with government budget cuts and a lack of skilled resources, to make sure they can capitalise on the innovations available today and ensure that there will be sufficient supply for the nation’s housing stock.
The creation of a clear, unambiguous roadmap that defines sustainability standards and sets out how to achieve them is imperative for social housing. By creating better avenues of communication between all the stakeholders involved in the building process, the industry can move towards creating this together – a view shared by those we spoke with in a roundtable we held earlier in the year. A good example of this is the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Construct Zero plan. The CLC, a collaborative hub which connects relevant construction organisations and government departments, devised a nine-point plan to target the priority areas of the industry which need to be tackled to reduce emissions. This plan shows how the industry, which best understand the costs, timescales, challenges and opportunities it faces, can put itself in the driving seat and collaborate to find the answers it needs.
John Harris, head of sales - housing, Wienerberger