Workshop: Case study - WWF-UK pursues sustainable homes

Francois Le Goff

Summary

WWF-UK mounted a campaign that succeeded in producing new laws and financial incentives to boost the number of sustainable homes on the housing market and reduce CO2 emissions in the UK.

Background

Cars and industry are usually quoted as the main cause of global warming but homes, with 27 per cent of the UK's total CO2 emissions, are also a major contributor.

WWF-UK kicked off One Million Sustainable Homes in August 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, calling on the UK government and regional assemblies to commit to develop 1 million sustainable homes by 2012.

Although the Government said it wants to cut CO2 emissions by 6 million tonnes a year by 2020, few low-carbon emissions homes are being built, and current building regulations make no mention of sustainable development issues.

In order for sustainable homes to become standard practice, WWF-UK planned to act at various levels by changing the law, influencing investors' behaviour and promoting good practice within the building industry.

How it worked

WWF-UK teamed up with bank HBOS last year to produce a report rating the environmental performance of the top 13 FTSE-listed building companies.

Entitled Building towards sustainability: performance and progress among the UK's leading house-builders, the report showed that most companies fail to take action to improve the sustainability of their products.

The charity set up a Sustainable Homes Taskforce consisting of partners such as the Environment Agency and the House Builders Federation. The group aimed to find ways to keep the costs of building sustainable homes competitive and to encourage demand for this type of accommodation.

An annual award ceremony was launched to recognise examples of best practice in the new homes market. The award was handed over in May by the presenter of Channel 4's Grand Designs programme, Kevin McCloud, to Greenwich Millennium Village and Childwall Neighbourhood in Liverpool.

Parliamentary activity resulted in Andrew Stunell MP introducing the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, a Private Member's Bill. It addressed issues such as the environmental impact of materials used for construction and required that new and refurbished buildings comply with standards of sustainability and crime resistance.

WWF-UK also called on the Treasury to exempt from stamp duty homes meeting the EcoHomes Very Good standard, an environment certification issued by charity the BRE Trust. Other demands included capital allowances for expenditure aiming to turn premises into sustainable residential homes for the rental market.

Results

The WWF-sponsored Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill became law on 16 September. The Government, which pledged to ensure that the Act is effectively implemented, has a host of new powers to tackle the harmful effect that homes and other buildings have on the environment.

The publication of the WWF/ HBOS benchmarking report led a number of major institutional investors to engage house-builders in discussion about how their environmental performance could be improved in the future.

The 2004 Budget accepted one of the charity's fiscal incentive demands by introducing an energy-saving allowance of up to £1,500, providing landlords with tax relief on expenditure for loft and cavity-wall insulation.

The award ceremony in May demonstrated the quality of sustainable homes to the housing market. "This award shows that you don't have to live in a tree house to do your bit for the planet," said McCloud. "As developers start to think more creatively about the homes they design, sustainable living will increasingly become an option for us all."

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