4 Steps towards Green Growth in the Housing Sector

May 11, 2018

This article was first published in 24 Housing Magazine – May 2018

The UK is the most successful G7 country at both growing its economy and reducing its emissions in the last 25 years.

This puts to bed the idea that there can’t be green growth. Unfortunately the housing sector can take little credit for helping to deliver on this. The last set of records showed a 4% increase in emissions from buildings, whereas the power supply grid, waste and industrial sectors all managed to reduce their emissions significantly in the four years to 2016.

The release of the Industrial Strategy, 25 Year Environment Plan and Clean Growth Strategy have been largely met with a collective shrug by the sector, despite the clear messages that a post-Brexit Britain will be on a low carbon pathway.

Already lagging behind, the housing sector runs the risk of having to play catch-up unless it does the following:

Shows Leadership

The failure of leadership across the sector to begin to tackle climate change is staggering. Many landlords still build to building regulations, citing costs whilst not recognising their approach will lead to many properties being retrofitted before 2050. There has been no industry response to the Clean Growth Strategy five months after its publication and landlords are training too few staff to deal with complex technology.

Plans for a post-gas future

The sector is over-reliant on gas and has failed to embrace new technology, such as heat pumps, at scale. Here is a wake-up call: the government wants to phase out our reliance on gas by 2030. This is 12 years away and yet we still talk to landlords providing boilers for their new-build and retrofit projects, with little regard for their signposted obsolescence.

Embraces the electric vehicle (EV) revolution

Schemes should first and foremost promote alternative methods to private car use given the UK’s poor record on air quality. The plan to phase out diesel and petrol engines is due by 2040, but it is likely the industry will have moved to EV long before that point. Housing associations should be making plans for fleet investment and demand for rapid charging now to avoid a capital shock in the next 20 years.

Invests in batteries and solar

Solar panels are an established technology, and the revolution in battery storage allows for possibilities to reduce fuel poverty and housing energy demand from the grid. However the uptake from housing associations remains low. The practical implication is also around design – where do you put a battery?

There is no way around it: we need to acknowledge climate change and how the sector can actively and positively contribute towards action. We need leadership, long-term vision and action. Time has run out – the housing sector must get its hands dirty now.

Interested in identifying a pathway to clean housing growth? Get involved in Sustainable Homes’ new research Housing 2050 

Bevan Jones

Bevan Jones

Bevan is the managing director of Sustainable Homes. Bevan's areas of expertise are: Climate change adaptation | Climate change and business planning | Sustainable organisations | Carbon management | Sustainability strategy | Consultancy

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Brian Rutter
Brian Rutter

I like the key areas you have identified. There is much to do but the necessary technology is available to use. In my work which is focussed on system architectures, the management of interactive interfaces between technologies and the focus on innovation, there is no doubt the opportunities are immense in all aspects of our current society.
With so much disruptive technology currently I think this is the time to confront and engage in reducing human impact on the plants eco system. It can be done. Great subject.


The housing sector definitely needs to catch up with green growth in other industries. I’m excited to see if air source heat pumps are used more widely in future developments, and whether we can solve the issues with solar. As you say, it’s time to take on the challenge. Thanks for sharing!

Bob Hatton

Yes, I agree with the points that Bevan has raised. However the enabler to better our housing stock is the government. It needs to force through a new radical low carbon change by forcing developers to take up low carbon renewable technologies by way of upgrading the existing planning regulations accordingly. No planning permission should be granted unless the developer can demonstrate a viable low carbon build and fuel source for the future.