Tuesday, 5 Oct 2021  |  Reading time:  12 mins  | Read online

Low carbon housing

Each week we focus on a different global topic, highlighting innovative content and insights from LGIU and our members around the world.  

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This week we celebrate the UN’s World Habitat Day, and with the emphasis on reaching net zero, this edition of Global Local Recap focuses on low carbon housing

What is it? Low carbon housing is designing and retrofitting homes to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from construction, heating, cooling, and day-to-day living.

Why does it matter? Reducing carbon emissions is important for the wider global effort to minimize the impact of global warming, but more energy-efficient homes can be cheaper to run as well and reduces other forms of pollution.

How does it work? New build homes can be designed to be very efficient, older homes can be insulated or retrofitted to use more carbon neutral energy sources. 

What can local governments do? Local government can play a huge role in implementing building standards, developing low carbon planning frameworks and supporting incentives to help homeowners and landlords to upgrade insulation and heating systems.

Who’s doing it well? This week we loved the community engagement in Tampere, Finland; concrete recycling in Zurich, Switzerland, and Houston’s ReUse Warehouse for building materials.

If you would like to share a story on our blog or a strategy from your council, fill in this simple form or drop me a line at ingrid.koehler@lgiu.org.

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This week's featured content

Beyond efficiency in net zero housing: how councils can reduce embodied carbon

By Kat McManus, LGIU

Over the next 30 years, putting in place the conditions to drastically decarbonise – or even reach net zero, as 61% of countries have pledged – will be a formidable task for governments globally. Representing 38% of worldwide emissions, the buildings industry must be a priority for change.

Carbon emissions from buildings fall into two categories: operational carbon, which describes the energy used in running a building; and embodied carbon, created primarily through construction and demolition (including raw materials extraction, manufacture and transport).

“As housing energy efficiency continually improves and as energy production moves to renewables, operational carbon will no longer be responsible for the majority of emissions in a building's lifecycle 

Regulations for embodied carbon tend to be less well developed compared to regulations for energy efficiency – in many countries, there is still no regulation at all. While it is gaining momentum, the concept is still fairly new, and so there are many untapped opportunities to address embodied carbon in buildings that represent low hanging fruit – choosing to consider them during construction does not have to result in dramatically increased costs. In fact, there are cost-based arguments to considering embodied carbon.

How can taking stock of embodied carbon reduce construction costs?

LGIU Global Local Highlights


Moving Councils to net zero: Adopting a retro-first approach

This briefing explores opportunities for local government shifting to a reuse-first approach to property, arguing it provides an opportunity for councils to not only meet their carbon reduction targets, but also better shape their towns and cities in a way that adapts to market conditions, is inclusive, and maximises social and local economic benefits.
Read our content here.

Homes fit for our future: getting on with climate-friendly housing

Achieving carbon neutrality within the next twenty to thirty years requires innovation throughout the housing system. This paper examines innovation impacts in embodied, operational and land-based emissions, and explores routes to make yesterday’s innovations tomorrow’s ‘business as usual’.
Read our content here.

Swift read: helping social landlords in Scotland achieve net zero

Social landlords face a mammoth task increasing the energy efficiency of homes in Scotland and elsewhere. A task force set up by the Scottish Government has put forward solutions to achieving net zero in social housing but, as a new briefing explains, much will depend on financial support. 
Read our content here.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

Finland: Residents trained as energy experts to promote low carbon living

Around 200 City of Tampere residents have been trained in energy efficient practices in order to share this knowledge with their neighbours through the TARMO+ project. The project also featured workshops bringing together stakeholders, including the trained energy experts, housing companies, energy companies and municipal officials, to connect service providers and users and share good practices. An interactive project map highlighted sustainable actions taken or planned by housing companies to encourage collaboration and similar actions by other companies.

Related: Annual event brings together thousands of volunteers to revitalise disadvantaged US city’s housing World Habitat Awards

Australia: Sustainable housing for Victoria’s homeless

Regional development minister Mary-Anne Thomas has announced that the Victorian Government will spend $500,000 on creating sustainable housing for men experiencing homelessness in the City of Greater Geelong. The funding will see seven new one-bedroom living units at Samaritan House, increasing the accommodation’s capacity by 50 per cent. Samaritan House provides housing, meals and ongoing support services to men experiencing homelessness for three to six months, with affordable rent to help people transition to longer-term social housing. The sustainable design utilises natural ventilation, native landscaping, solar energy and water tanks.
Premier of Victoria

Related: Barcelona co-operative featuring energy-efficient passive design provides affordable living after housing crisis World Habitat Awards

France: Paris public housing units retrofitted to make them safer and sustainable

Thousands of public housing units needing repair have been retrofitted by the City of Paris over the last decade. The 39-storey Prelude tower was fitted with three inches of extra external insulation, encased in steel and given new windows, heating and wiring after showing signs of wear. The renovations have nearly halved the building’s energy use. Another block of nearly 500 units, built in the 1920s, is being retrofitted with new ventilation systems and re-insulated with cork on its interior walls. Around 50 units have been kept empty for residents to stay in during works to minimise disruption.
Grist / Colin Kinniburgh

Related: City Climate Finance Gap Fund supports projects including low carbon planning in Senegal and 15-minute city in Colombia World Bank

Switzerland: Zurich’s widespread recycled concrete use inspires action elsewhere

The mandated use of recycled concrete in Zurich has saved around 17,000 cubic metres of virgin materials and landfill area, according to a 2019 case study. All publicly-owned buildings in the City of Zurich have been required to be made from recycled concrete since 2005. Several new housing developments and a hospital in Zurich are being made from concrete of which 95% is recycled from demolition waste and the Kunsthaus Zurich art museum’s extension is being made from 98% recycled concrete. City officials from Rome and Helsinki have visited Zurich to learn about their concrete reuse methods.
Bloomberg CityLab + Green / Corinne Gretler

Related: Scottish council project using river water to heat buildings wins European award West Dunbartonshire Council

Policy & Resources

Research, analysis and examples of policy in practice from leading institutes and places like yours.

Analysis: The Centre for Ageing Better (UK) argues that more energy efficient homes are safer and more suitable homes. The Pembina Institute (Canada) has produced a case study about retrofitting with tenants in place along with other retrofitting case studies. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in the US has a report with advice for policy makers on reducing embodied carbon in buildings. 

Policy support: The UK Green Building Council has developed a policy playbook, setting out the context and actions that local authorities can take now to make new build homes greener. 

Learning: The UN has developed free self-paced courses designed for local government folk to learn about its New Urban Agenda and implementation. ​​

Policy & practice examples: Toronto’s high rise retrofit loan programme. Santa Monica, California’s first-of-its-kind policy to require all single-family new build homes to have net zero carbon emissions includes energy standards and building codes. Vancouver, Canada is introducing new planning/zoning rules and net zero construction standards. Houston, Texas and a regional partnership of local governments has introduced the ReUse Warehouse to reduce construction based carbon emissions and waste through a circular economy effort. 

Interested in other LGIU Global content?

Global Local podcast: All resettlement is local

LGIU launches the brand new Global Local podcast with a look at how local governments can learn from each other on the issues of refugee resettlement. 
Listen to the podcast here.

September Think Tank Review

Our think tank reviews cover the latest research and thought leadership from research institutions in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
Read this month's Think Tank Review here.

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we're focusing on city deals, exploring the impacts of funding and decision-making power transfers central and local government. In two weeks time, we'll take a look at how flooding infrastructure might help us adapt to increasingly intense weather. 

If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at ingrid.koehler@lgiu.org. Please forward this free newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.

Want more content? Visit our website to access our Global Local briefings, blogs, podcast and more.

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