It is well within us of all to live more sustainably – it's a well-documented fact. As a society, we are also aware that we need to change our behaviour if we are to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. On an individual level, this is relatively simple, including things as simple as recycling more or buying local more often. Yet, as a society, we also need to make wider-scale changes to the way that we live and go about our daily lives.
In its current state, the global building sector causes emissions roughly the same as those of China1. For the world to get close to keeping the rise in the global average temperature at less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement, this sector needs to start operating at ‘net zero carbon’.
Accomplishing this will be difficult. Right now, only 500 commercial buildings and 2,000 residences worldwide have been designated as having a ‘net zero carbon’ footprint. This is a long way off where we need to be if we are to make a meaningful difference to our environmental emissions.
WHAT DOES ‘NET ZERO CARBON’ MEAN?
A net zero carbon footprint, also referred to as carbon neutrality, describes a situation where the carbon released is matched by an equal amount that is either captured or offset by other means such as clean energy generation.
There are more than just environmental reasons why we should consider greener homes – there are also financial incentives for going greener. Research by the Sustainable Energy Association suggests that implementing greener building design practices in the UK could save the country as much as £12.1 billion a year by 20502.
Across the country, energy consumption per household is on the rise and increased by 2.6% between 2014 and 20153. As a net importer of energy, the UK is more sensitive to price fluctuations in its energy supply. This is made worse by the poor state of current housing stock in the UK – approximately 6.6 million homes are rated as having poor energy efficiency (achieving band E, F or G on their Energy Performance Certificates). Yet as it stands, for these poorly-insulated properties to become energy efficient by 2025, more than three times the number of retrospective measures need to be installed each year4.
While there is a clear need for more energy efficient housing in the country, it is on the way to becoming mandatory in London. The Greater London Authority has decided to press ahead with the UK Government’s abandoned plan to require new builds to be zero-carbon5. This means residential building projects in the capital will need to consider how to reduce CO2 emissions while keeping energy costs low for the homeowner.
There are several ways of doing this, from installing better insulation measures to eco-friendly power and even passive house design, where the property is designed to make maximum use of the surrounding environment to heat and cool the space. Home technology systems – such as smart lighting or heating – also have an important role to play in making a home more sustainable and increasing energy efficiency.