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Alsaeed, M., Hadjri, K., & Nawratek, K. (2024, March). A comparative analysis of UK sustainable housing standards. In 7th Residential Building Design & Construction Conference, Pennsylvania, USA.

https://www.phrc.psu.edu/Conferences/Residential-Building-Design-and-Construction-Conference/7th-RBDCC.aspx

Posted on 17-07-2024

The UK government has adopted several building standards, of which Net-zero energy homes, Net-zero carbon homes, Home Quality Mark, Passivhaus and Building Regulations form the basis for sustainable housing practices in the UK. Yet, in 2019, 49 per cent of housing developers were not familiar with or did not adopt all parts of these standards, citing complexity and increasing costs as barriers. The UK's ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 has therefore increased pressure on the construction industry to adopt more sustainable housing practices.

We argue that the complexity, fragmentation and misunderstanding of sustainability standards must be overcome in order to effectively design sustainable housing. For this, a comprehensive mapping of existing sustainability standards is required. This study therefore aims, firstly, to identify sustainable housing standards and discuss their challenges and the timeline for their development and, secondly, to conduct a comparative analysis that identifies similarities, differences and relationships between standards and discuss their effectiveness in delivering sustainable housing.

A literature review was used to identify the relevant standards in practice in the UK. This served as the basis for a comparative analysis to identify the similarities, differences and relationships between these standards. A desktop analysis was also conducted using three social housing case studies in England to identify the building standards applied and to assess their effectiveness in terms of the project's environmental impact and its sustainability outcomes.

A binary structured approach was proposed to contribute to the theoretical debates on the UK sustainability standards and their interrelationships and similarities. The practical component is intended to help housing planners navigate the complexity of the regulations and to support the decision-making process based on the cost-benefit principle. Finally, this approach could be further developed as a comprehensive framework to include practical recommendations, including the actual costs of embedding sustainability in housing construction.

Related case studies

Related vocabulary

Housing Governance

Housing Policy

Sustainability

Sustainability Built Environment

Area: Policy and financing

The shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ has been debated since the early 1970s. Whilst state interventionism had been widely embraced within western societies during the post-war decades, governments gradually moved from exercising constitutional powers to acting as facilitators and cooperative partners (Rhodes, 1997). Over the course of a few decades, this resulted in governance as ‘interactive social-political forms of governing’ (Nag, 2018, p. 124).  Hira and Cohn (2003, p. 12), influenced by Keohane (2002), define governance as “the processes and institutions, both formal and informal, that guide and restrain the collective activities of a group”. Its decentralised and flexible nature could still include public actors but would also leave space for private and third-sector parties to provide services in hybrid and temporary institutional arrangements. To formulate one single definition of ‘housing governance’ as a particular mode of governance is however difficult due to its multilevel character. Housing could relate to either a family home, a housing association, or a complete local/national housing governance framework. On a household level, Wotschack (2005, p. 2) defines governance as managing “the daily time allocation of spouses by household rules and conflict handling strategies”. The work of Wijburg (2021) indicates that local/municipal governance entails a set of public interventions, strategies, policies and provisions used to provide local needs (e.g. housing supply). On the national level, Yan et al. (2021) define public rental housing (PRH) governance as “a structure of a wide range of government and non-governmental actors that act in all its phases of PRH provision from policy design to implementation and realisation”.[1] This specific definition on PRH combines the domestic definition of governance with Wijburg’s understanding of governance on the local level. Within the Chinese context, the national government provides policies and creates nationwide operational methods, whilst local governments implement and formulate the policies locally (Yan et al., 2021). Critics point out that a more decentralised governance structure complicates the public accountability of housing provision. Peters and Pierre (2006, p. 40) distinguish problems concerning the ‘isolation’ and ‘enforcement’ of accountability. The former refers to demarcation, as it is easier to measure the performance of a government housing agency directly responsible for new build and operations, than those from the private sector in an indirect role trying to stimulate and facilitate other actors and contracting out construction and operations (Shamsul Haque, 2000). The latter relates to the accountability deficit that arises when responsibility is transferred from democratically governed municipal agencies to actors without a representative institutional arrangement, and thus without control mechanisms for tenants or the wider population (Mullins, 2006). Throughout history, understanding of governing has evolved together with the role of government. The state plays a different role in capitalism, corporatism and socialism, which has varying effects on local and/or (inter)national levels. Whilst the above paragraphs describe housing governance within a democratic governance regime, transferring the conceptual debate to autocratic or hybrid regimes would pose difficulties. Thus, finding a unique definition of housing governance applicable in all spheres remains a challenge, and the specific context must be carefully considered. Important challenges remain, and as housing provision mechanisms evolve, further exploration of housing governance, especially on a municipal level, are likely to gain importance (Hoekstra, 2020). [1] “Housing provision is a physical process of creating and transferring a dwelling to its occupiers, its subsequent use and physical reproduction and at the same time, a social process dominated by the economic interests involved” ibid.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: T.Croon (ESR11), M.Horvat (ESR6)

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Area: Policy and financing

Housing policies are usually understood in a narrow manner as social policies targeting ' expensive' housing prices through housing allowances, tax deduction or social housing allocation. However, this definition takes a different approach and draws from a larger body of economic literature to identify the wider array of policies that impact housing markets. Broadly speaking, housing markets are influenced through fiscal, macroeconomic, prudential and structural policies (Hilbers et al., 2008). These public policies have clear impacts on housing demand and supply and also often create synergies between each other. Fiscal policies have a stronger impact on income and costs through taxation and subsidies. One of the main fiscal policies with regard to housing is the mortgage interest deduction which reduces user costs for the homeowner and can produce increases in property prices (Poterba, 1984). Macroeconomic policy regulates the money supply through interest rates. Housing has usually been perceived as a conveyor belt for macroeconomic policy as the expansion of the money supply through low interest rates or quantitative easing has the potential to increase demand during recessions counteracting the procyclical behaviour of financial markets (Muellbauer, 1992). Prudential policies determine the level of risk associated with lending through Loan-to-Value (LTV) and Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratios. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) that started in the US in 2008 is usually seen as the failure of prudential policy that resulted in the tightening of loans (Whitehead & Williams, 2017) and  drew renewed attention to housing policy from central banks, policymakers, and economists (Piazzesi et al., 2016). Structural policies regulate housing supply, this includes planning regulations and environmental standards. For example, research from the US has shown that zoning laws can have a relevant impact on housing affordability by constraining supply (Glaeser & Gyourko, 2002). While most research is conducted selectively on each of these policy interventions, there are relevant synergies between policy domains that can be identified. These policies usually work in conjunction with each other: lax prudential policies and favourable home ownership taxation together with low interest rates and tight planning controls can lead to higher property prices. Conversely, constrained lending, brick-and-mortar subsidies and higher interest rates are known to mitigate rising house prices.

Created on 01-07-2022

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12), M.Haffner (Supervisor)

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Area: Community participation

Sustainability is primarily defined as 'the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment' (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, n.d.) and is often used interchangeably with the term “sustainable development”(Aras & Crowther, 2009). As defined by the UN, sustainable development is the effort to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987) and is often interpreted as the strategies adopted towards sustainability with the latter being the overall goal/vision (Diesendorf, 2000). Both of these relatively general and often ambiguous terms have been a focal point for the past 20 years for researchers, policy makers, corporations as well as local communities, and activist groups, among others, (Purvis et al., 2019). The ambiguity and vagueness that characterise both of these terms have contributed to their leap into the global mainstream as well as the broad political consensus regarding their value and significance (Mebratu, 1998; Purvis et al., 2019), rendering them one of the dominant discourses in environmental, socio-political and economic issues (Tulloch, 2013). It is, however, highly contested whether their institutionalisation is a positive development. Tulloch, and Tulloch & Nielson (2013; 2014) argue that these terms -as they are currently understood- are the outcome of the “[colonisation of] environmentalist thought and action” which, during the 1960s and 1970s, argued that economic growth and ecological sustainability within the capitalist system were contradictory pursuits. This “colonisation” resulted in the disempowerment of such discourses and their subsequent “[subordination] to neoliberal hegemony” (Tulloch & Neilson, 2014, p. 26). Thus, sustainability and sustainable development, when articulated within neoliberalism, not only reinforce such disempowerment, through practices such as greenwashing, but also fail to address the intrinsic issues of a system that operates on, safeguards, and prioritises economic profit over social and ecological well-being (Jakobsen, 2022). Murray Bookchin (1982), in “The Ecology of Freedom” contends that social and environmental issues are profoundly entangled, and their origin can be traced to the notions of hierarchy and domination. Bookchin perceives the exploitative relationship with nature as a direct outcome of the development of hierarchies within early human societies and their proliferation ever since. In order to re-radicalise sustainability, we need to undertake the utopian task of revisiting our intra-relating, breaking down these hierarchical relations, and re-stitching our social fabric. The intra-relating between and within the molecules of a society (i.e. the different communities it consists of) determines how sustainability is understood and practised (or performed), both within these communities and within the society they form. In other words, a reconfigured, non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relationship is the element that can allow for an equitable, long-term setting for human activity in symbiosis with nature (Dempsey et al., 2011, p. 290). By encouraging, striving for, and providing the necessary space for all voices to be heard, for friction and empathy to occur, the aforementioned long-term setting for human activity based on a non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relating is strengthened, which augments the need for various forms of community participation in decision-making, from consulting to controlling. From the standpoint of spatial design and architecture, community participation is already acknowledged as being of inherent value in empowering communities (Jenkins & Forsyth, 2009), while inclusion in all facets of creation, and community control in management and maintenance can improve well-being and social reproduction (Newton & Rocco, 2022; Turner, 1982). However, much like sustainability, community participation has been co-opted by the neoliberal hegemony; often used as a “front” for legitimising political agendas or as panacea to all design problems, community participation has been heavily losing its significance as a force of social change (Smith & Iversen, 2018), thus becoming a depoliticised, romanticised prop. Marcus Miessen (2011) has developed a critical standpoint towards what is being labelled as participation; instead of a systematic effort to find common ground and/or reach consensus, participation through a cross-benching approach could be a way to create enclaves of disruption, i.e. processes where hierarchy and power relations are questioned, design becomes post-consensual spatial agency and participation turns into a fertile ground for internal struggle and contestation. Through this cross-benching premise, community participation is transformed into a re-politicised spatial force. In this context, design serves as a tool of expressing new imaginaries that stand against the reproduction of the neoliberal spatial discourse. Thus, sustainability through community participation could be defined as the politicised effort to question, deconstruct and dismantle the concept of dominance by reconfiguring the process of intra-relating between humans and non-humans alike.

Created on 08-06-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

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Area: Design, planning and building

Sustainability of the built environment The emergence of the contemporary environmental movement between the 1960s and 1970s and its proposals to remedy the consequences of pollution can be seen as one of the first steps in addressing environmental problems (Scoones, 2007). However, the term “sustainable” only gained wider currency when it was introduced into political discourse by the Club of Rome with its 1972 report “The Limits to Growth”, in which the proposal to change growth trends to be sustainable in the far future was put forward (Grober, 2007; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a; Meadows et al., 1972). Since then, the use of the term has grown rapidly, especially after the publication of the 1978 report “Our Common Future”, which became a cornerstone of debates on sustainability and sustainable development (Brundtland et al., 1987; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a). Although the two terms are often used indistinctively, the former refers to managing resources without depleting them for future generations, while the latter aims to improve long-term economic well-being and quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015b; UNESCO, 2015). The Brundtland Report paved the way for the 1992 Earth Summit, which concluded that an effective balance must be found between consumption and conservation of natural resources (Scoones, 2007). In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly published the 8 Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000), which led to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published in 2016 (UN, 2016). The 17 SDGs call on all countries to mobilise their efforts to end all forms of poverty, tackle inequalities and combat climate change (UN, 2020; UNDP, 2018). Despite the rapidly growing literature on sustainability, the term remains ambiguous and lacks a clear conceptual foundation (Grober, 2007; Purvis et al., 2019). Murphy (2012) suggests that when defining sustainability, the question should be: Sustainability, of what? However, one of the most prominent interpretations of sustainability is the three pillars concept, which describes the interaction between the social, economic and environmental components of society (Purvis et al., 2019). The environmental pillar aims to improve human well-being by protecting natural capital -e.g. land, air and water- (Morelli, 2011). The economic sustainability pillar focuses on maintaining stable economic growth without damaging natural resources (Dunphy et al., 2000). Social sustainability, on the other hand, aims to preserve social capital and create a practical social framework that provides a comprehensive view of people's needs, communities and culture (Diesendorf, 2000). This latter pillar paved the way for the creation of a fourth pillar that includes human and culture as a focal point in sustainability objectives (RMIT, 2017). Jabareen (2006) describes environmental sustainability as a dynamic, inclusive and multidisciplinary concept that overlaps with other concepts such as resilience, durability and renewability. Morelli (2011) adds that it can be applied at different levels and includes tangible and intangible issues. Portney (2015) takes Morelli's explanation further and advocates that environmental sustainability should also promote industrial efficiency without compromising society's ability to develop (Morelli, 2011; Portney, 2015). Measuring the built environment sustainability level is a complex process that deploys quantitative methods, including (1) indexes (e.g. energy efficiency rate), (2) indicators (e.g. carbon emissions and carbon footprint), (3) benchmarks (e.g. water consumption per capita) and (4) audits (e.g. building management system efficiency) (Arjen, 2015; Berardi, 2012; James, 2014; Kubba, 2012). In recent years, several rating or certification systems and practical guides have been created and developed to measure sustainability, most notably the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) introduced in the UK in 1990 (BRE, 2016) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) established in the US in 2000 (USGBC, 2018). In addition, other overlapping methodologies and certification frameworks have emerged, such as the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2002 (EPB, 2003) and the European Framework for Sustainable Buildings, also known as Level(s) in 2020 (EU, 2020), amongst others. The sustainability of the built environment aims to reduce human consumption of natural resources and the production of waste while improving the health and comfort of inhabitants and thus the performance of the built environment elements such as buildings and spaces, and the infrastructure that supports human activities (Berardi, 2012; McLennan, 2004). This aim requires an effective theoretical and practical framework that encompasses at least six domains, including land, water, energy, indoor and outdoor environments, and economic and cultural preservation (Ferwati et al., 2019). More recently, other domains have been added, such as health and comfort, resource use, environmental performance, and cost-benefit and risk (EU, 2020). Sustainability of the built environment also requires comprehensive coordination between the architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental systems of buildings in the design, construction and operation phases to improve performance and avoid unnecessary resource consumption (Yates & Castro-Lacouture, 2018).

Created on 24-06-2022

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)

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