Those involved in landownership have a particular responsibility to lead the way.
Those of you who have read the Stern Report may have found yourselves wondering where on earth we should start in tackling the monumental issues it raises. But we have to start somewhere and I believe that those of us involved in landownership have a particular responsibility to lead the way. We can – and must – demonstrate that it is possible and practical to live in a more sustainable way and that adopting environmentally friendly practices will make life better for us as individuals, while also helping us preserve our planet.
My former colleague, Dr Paul McNamara, director of property research at the Prudential, warned fellow institutional property owners last year that that if they did make their property portfolios more environmentally – and economically – sustainable, they would rapidly become the owners of unlettable and therefore valueless properties. This same argument, of course, applies to all of us as individual property owners.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has also acknowledged the need to change attitudes and practice and now offers an award for sustainable building as one of its global annual building awards. Last autumn, this category was won by Jerry Harrall, an architect from Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. From a shortlist of 14 entries from around the world – including two from Australia, South Africa, Singapore and the Welsh Assembly Building – he won the award with a development of four affordable homes in Honningham, Norfolk.
The homes are earth sheltered, which means they are covered with a layer of earth which acts as a thermal blanket, keeping them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They have a minimal carbon footprint and make the maximum use of natural light and ventilation. Feedback from residents suggests they offer an exceptionally tranquil environment which has improved the quality of life of those living in them and has made them even more affordable.
Jerry himself lives in a seven year old 250 square metre earth-sheltered home. It is so heat efficient that his central heating has been on for fewer than five days in six years. He also manages to live entirely ‘fossil-fuel free,’ using solar panels to heat his water and using a fossil-fuel free energy supplier for his additional, very limited, energy needs. He estimates his total outgoings on the house, before council tax, to be less than £8 a week.
A recent and amazing breakthrough in photovoltaic (PV) technology at Johannesburg University by Professor Alberts and his team is likely to dramatically increase the speed of change in adopting sustainable techniques.
PV technology takes light from the sun and uses it to produce electricity. The team has developed an entirely new material known as CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium). It’s a thin film, produced at a very low cost and more carbon efficiently than current varieties of photo-voltaic cells, which are silicon-based. It is claimed that CIGS-based photovoltaic cells will generate ten times more energy per square metre than the current t silicon-based materials do.
Once this new PV technology is being industrially produced, we can use it not only on new buildings, but hopefully on existing homes, together with other techniques – assuming our planning authorities allow us – to bring our housing stock into the 21st century, even when the house is a listed building. At present, owners of listed buildings have a real problem and we must persuade our planners that the agenda for planning and design has changed and that our priorities must be primarily to make our whole building stock more environmentally friendly and affordable to occupy.
We must also consider the impact of buildings and management on our water resources, especially in this region. With climate change and the amount of predicted development, we have major problems ahead if we don’t change. Yet it is entirely possible, even in the East, to build buildings that are autonomous in their water requirements.
For example, waterless urinals and lavatories are already becoming common on mainland Europe and we’re starting to see them in the UK though I’d like to see more rapid take-up. In a typical commercial building, it’s the lavatory facilities which are the heaviest water users so the adoption of new waterless products would make a huge saving on water, particularly if combined with the latest rain water harvesting equipment.
The good news is that much of the technology to help us develop more environmentally friendly homes is already here and doesn’t have to cost any more per square metre than conventional construction. I’m currently working, for instance, on a 2,500 square metre stand alone commercial building in East Anglia, 14 units of eco-housing in Somerset, a large new eco-house on a large farm in the East Midlands and a fantastic eco-school in Suffolk.
It’s great news for our sector and for the future of the planet that many in our profession are starting to embrace change and blaze a trail which we must all follow. Go on! Embrace sustainability! It’s not as hard as you think and we will all benefit.
East Anglian Daily Times | 10.04.07April 5th, 2007