There are many different issues you can encounter when trying to make your properties as carbon-neutral as possible. If you acquire older buildings, and the land with them, is it better to retrofit them with the required updates, or should you demolish them and start over?
When it comes to retrofitting, there are some things to consider. Some buildings are functional, and some are functional art. After all, the last thing you would burn for heat would be a Van Gogh! Sometimes buildings are beyond repair or too outdated for retrofitting, and then it may be considered socially acceptable to tear it down.
There has been lots of controversy about the merits of retrofitting, repurposing or rebuilding in the news recently, particularly in regard to the M&S flagship store on Oxford Street. It has been argued that demolishing this 90-year-old art deco building and building a modern office block in its place would be better in the long-run. However, opponents argue that it would cause more carbon-emissions to destroy and rebuild than just updating the interior and retrofitting the building for modern requirements. Never mind the fact it would mean erasing a historical artistic building.
It is also important to note that building is one of the largest global emitters, accounting for almost 40% of the global CO2 emissions. With cement alone contributing to 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, it is clear that building less and conserving more, where possible, will help the planet.
This debate can also be seen in many housing associations today. With the growth of the movement “retrofit first”, you may be asking yourself how you should go about redevelopment projects now and in the future? Especially as given the UK's current housing crisis, it would be unreasonable to stop building new homes.
At Convene, we are here for all your governance needs, so have put together a helpful guide to help you make your decision.
What To Consider When Acquiring New Properties?
If you are trying to minimise your carbon output, it is crucial to understand the current state of any property you acquire. Here is a list of checks you should consider before signing the dotted line:
- What is the current energy rating of the building?
- What would need to be added on?
- How extreme is the disrepair?
- Is the building cladded? And if so, with what materials?
- What is the solar location? You may want to add solar panels to ensure energy efficiency, or favour a south facing property as it will have more natural light!
- How water efficient is the property?
- Will it need insulation upgrades?
What To Consider With Your Current Properties?
Now you have bought the property, or want to improve your current properties, what should you take into consideration for retrofitting?
- How big is the scale of the project? Is it just minor updates, such as replacing old window frames, or is it more intense?
- What materials will you use? How much carbon will they need to be produced and fitted?
- How much carbon will be emitted in the destruction or waste process of the undesired bits of the building? For example, single pane windows will need to be replaced with double glazing, but recycling glass does still contribute to CO2 emissions (even if marginally in comparison to other substances).
- Will you be able to add renewable energy resources to the property, such as solar panels, wind or water turbines, etc?
With retrofitting, there is also the order to consider:
- Maintenance - this will help you prepare the property for any updates. The focus should be on energy conservation in your homes rather than energy efficiency.
- Upgrades - at this stage, you can focus on any sort of insulation measures, including cladding. This will be a larger undertaking than regular maintenance and focus on energy efficiency of the building.
- Renewable energy - this may not be possible for all your buildings, but should be the final stage of your project.
If retrofitting is not the route that is feasible or your projections show that it would be more eco-friendly to rebuild, what are the next steps?
- Calculate how much carbon will be emitted in the destruction of the property, this includes how much will be released by the necessary equipment, and the waste process of the materials.
- Can you utilise the original structure in any way? In some cases, you can reuse the existing foundation of the destroyed property, just make sure it is still secure!
- Estimate how much carbon will be emitted in the building process. It takes about 50 tonnes of CO2 to build the average UK home, that is equivalent to 6 homes’ energy use for one year.
- Determine the most carbon friendly and effective building material. You want to focus on building for longevity over profit. It is no use having a property that will need to be rebuilt in 25 or 50 years when you could have one that stands the test of time! You may even want to use materials such as timber, which help absorb carbon in your building.
- Consider environmental hazards: are there water supplies that need to be taken into account or could you soon run the risk of floods from a nearby river?
- Ensure you are not polluting the water supply. Water is a valuable commodity we need to ensure we protect, we can’t create more!
- Review what energy-saving initiatives you could build into the home. For example, would it be possible to have solar panels on the roof to help minimise fossil fuel energy consumption? Could you install an electric stove instead of a gas one? Or even, a rainwater filter to store water for a hose?
- Is it possible to rebuild the property to be south facing? As we have said, south facing helps you save energy, both in terms of electricity in lighting, and heat!
What To Consider When Building New Properties From Scratch:
Much of what you should consider when building new properties has already been highlighted in the previous section, but you should also consider the environment you are building in:
- How close is it to local transport? If your residents are able to use public transportation instead of their own vehicles, especially for short haul journeys, this will contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.
- Can you create a green space? If it is possible, ensure you are contributing to the existing local wildfire and not bringing in any invasive species. Assess if you are able to help cultivate the forestry of the area, as this will help make the air cleaner.
- What renewable energy can you build into the location with you. We have already discussed rainwater filters and solar panels, but this is not the only form of green energy. Could you build a water or wind turbine to harness local resources? Not only will this help save your residents’ money on their energy bills, but it is a long-term investment in the environment!
How Can An Effective ESG Report Help?
An effective ESG report can help you see where you are, so you can assess how on track you are with your carbon zero efforts. Considering all housing needs energy, building materials and land, in total the Housing Sector contributes massively to the climate crisis. The SRS aims to alleviate this by giving actionable goals.
The SRS is an ESG standard exclusively for the Housing sector, this will help you keep on track with what goals to prioritise. ESG is wide-ranging; it is important to focus on what will help you develop the best social and sustainable strategies fastest.
How Can Convene Help You?
Convene, working with our vast number of Housing Industry clients, have developed a new software tool, Convene ESG to help you produce the best ESG and SRS reports possible. By simplifying and automating much of the process, you can be sure that your ESG report building runs smoothly, so you can focus on developing your sustainable strategies.
With Convene ESG, you can develop a collaborative workflow, assigning certain sections of the ESG or SRS report to the required people. Once all the sections are filled in, Convene ESG will produce a formatted Word Document ready for you to publish!
Convene ESG also has a built-in comparison feature, which allows you to compare against competitors' formatting of their publicly accessible reports, and their results! This will help the whole of the housing sector develop the best reports possible!