In the first of a brand new series, Housing Digital talks to LiveWest’s Deputy CEO and Executive Director of Finance Melvyn Garrett, to find out how they have been investing in sustainability to become one of the UK’s leading green housing providers
What prompted LiveWest’s investment in sustainability?
With local councils declaring climate emergencies across the south west of England, and as the largest housing provider in the region, we wanted to renew our environmental commitments in order to embed sustainability across the organisation and to assist our local authority partners to achieve the goals outlined in their Climate Action Plan.
Our commitment is to reduce the environmental impact of our activities and to create a clean and sustainable future for our customers, employees, and families.
Climate change has a significant impact on the health, safety, and wellbeing of all of us.
It is important for housing associations to have a voice in the regional and national policies that shape the future of housing development and to support our local authorities.
Can you tell us a bit about your Creating Greener Futures Together environmental strategy?
We are targeting for all of our existing homes to reach an Energy Performance Certificates [EPC] rating of band C and above by 2028 – two years ahead of the proposed government target of 2030.
The increased EPC rating will reduce carbon emissions and support the government’s ambition for the nation to become carbon neutral by 2050. This runs alongside our core ambition to provide homes, support our customers, and ameliorate fuel poverty.
We are also taking steps to futureproof our new homes by installing the infrastructure that can accommodate heat pumps in the future to provide an alternative to a fossil-fuel based heating system.
We have plans to gradually move away from gas and oil heating systems to electric-based systems in order to benefit from the National Grid’s drive to become greener.
- Work starts on sustainable housing development in Exeter
- LiveWest finishes historic Pucklechurch housing scheme
- Housing provider issues more than 1,000 crisis grants to customers
Our strategy involves engaging with our customers through our digital platforms, videos, and guides to encourage them to be more sustainable and save money.
As demand for these increases, we will be looking to encourage our customers to become environmental champions and assist other customers within their neighbourhoods to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
We also have a dedicated renewable technologies team who work closely with our customers to ensure they understand how to operate the low- and zero-carbon systems within their homes.
LiveWest is currently running a number of sustainability-related projects. Could you explain a little about each one?
- All existing homes EPC of C and above by 2028
As an organisation that manages more than 37,000 homes, we recognise that our existing stock is our biggest impact on the environment; indeed, a majority of the homes that will be standing in 2050 are already built.
Fundamentally, this project is about reducing the carbon impact of our existing homes. This is not, however, without the challenges that come with a diverse portfolio of homes of different ages and construction within a vast geography. We recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ policy is not appropriate and will be working through a range of options.
- Replacing trees two-for-one on development sites
Removal of any trees in our new or existing communities is carefully considered. There are situations where it is necessary, but we have made the commitment to replace any tree removed with two new trees.
“We are targeting for all of our existing homes to reach an EPC rating of band C and above by 2028 – two years ahead of the proposed government target of 2030”
In 2018 LiveWest commissioned a tree-valuation report, which measured the economic benefits and values of our trees and other green infrastructure. The project is the first in the UK to be run by a social housing provider, and it allows us to quantify that the trees under our management store over 3,600 tonnes of CO2, with a further 109 tonnes sequestered every year.
- A Fabric First approach to building new homes
We have committed to delivering our new homes to an EPC band rating of high B/A. The intention is for this to be achieved using an enhanced fabric-first approach to ensure our homes outperform current building regulations, reducing both carbon emissions and energy demand in the process.
Taking a fabric-first approach involves maximising the performance of the components and materials that make up the building itself, before considering the use of technology. This approach ensures energy consumption is reduced and removes the need for long-term maintenance.
- The University of Exeter’s award-winning Green Consultants programme
We partnered with The University’s Green Consultants and their award-winning programme, which is designed to provide students with the skills and experience required to work in the environmental and sustainability sector while improving the sustainability of an organisation.
What sustainability projects are you looking to launch in 2021?
Green infrastructure is an important multi-functional feature in our communities, and accessing outdoor spaces and being close to nature has never been more important.
We are committed to promoting sustainable and bio-diverse green spaces, including edible landscaping, tree planting, wild meadows, and wildlife corridors through our landscape design on our new-build estates, and by rewilding on our extensive network of existing green spaces.
You are a member of Building Better. What led to your involvement in the programme?
We see that MMC [Modern Methods of Construction] will have an increasingly important future role to play in the sector in terms of increased delivery, waste reduction, and improved environmental performance.
LiveWest is a board member of Building Better, which is a strategic alliance of housing associations supported by the National Housing Federation. Our aim is to encourage collaboration across the social housing sector in order to realise the true benefits of MMC in terms of quality, sustainability, and better value.
LiveWest is aiming for a 20% reduction in paper consumption over the next 12 months and a 10% reduction in business mileage year-on-year for the next three years. How do you aim to achieve these targets?
Our offices are still in use, but we recognise these are challenging times and have adopted a flexible way of working for colleagues.
We had originally targeted a 20% reduction in our paper consumption over the next year and a 10% reduction in business mileage year-on-year for the next three years, but with our current working patterns we are in the process of making these targets more challenging.
LiveWest is also providing employees with an opportunity to own a low-emission car at a cost they can afford through a salary-sacrifice scheme.
Phasing out single-use plastic at our offices as well as using environmentally friendly stationery further demonstrates our drive to become a more sustainable organisation.
LiveWest provides over 37,000 homes to over 80,000 people throughout the south west of England, from Gloucestershire to the Isles of Scilly.
The organisation plans to build 15,000 homes over the next 10 years.
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