From hydrogen houses to revolutionary retrofits, Housing Digital talks with Andrew Carey, director of Assets at Wales-based Tai Tarian, to find out more about their array of sustainability initiatives
Why did you set yourself a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030?
We started a discussion within the organisation regarding climate change and decarbonisation a number of years ago, and the response we had from our staff was quite striking.
It was clear that this was a really important issue to them, and we knew we could do more to play our part in combating climate change. It was time to stop talking and time to act.
What is the Carbon Literacy Project, to which you’ve recently signed up?
The Carbon Literacy Project is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the key issues and gain a common understanding across the country.
As society and organisations adjust to the changes we need to make to combat the effects of climate change, one of the biggest challenges we face will be that of ‘behaviour change’. We firmly believe the starting point for this is to understand WHY? Education forms a critical aspect of that.
What prompted you to start your own #FridaysForFuture campaign?
As part of our discussions on climate change with our staff, we played several short videos. One of the best reactions we received was through Greta Thunberg; her words really hit home to many. One of her campaigns has been her #FridaysForFuture initiative.
So, since July 2019, we have followed her example and made Fridays our day for the planet. It’s known as #FridaysForFuture and is a small but significant step toward the way we work and travel to work.
Pre-pandemic, we saw the number of cars in our carpark reduce by 30-50% as people embraced car sharing. Since then, the pandemic has taken hold and has obviously dramatically changed the way we travel and use our offices.
We have still maintained the #FridaysForFuture theme and continue to make this our day for the planet.
Why did you feel it was necessary to get involved in the 2019 Global Climate Strike?
About a month before the Global Climate Strike, we made the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030 – and the timing couldn’t have been better. We have found that our staff are very concerned about climate change and, when the opportunity was offered to attend the Earth Strike, staff jumped at the chance.
By letting a small but significant number of people from across our organisation attend this protest, it allowed us to demonstrate how passionate we are about the environment and our desire to play a pivotal role in creating a sustainable planet.
In what ways will the developments you have planned for 2021 fit in with the wider green agenda?
We have committed that every new-build home will be built to the highest possible environmental standards and will reach EPC A. It’s not just fancy tech that helps us achieve this task, it’s a fundamental change in how we design our homes.
Focussing on ‘Fabric First’ approach, reduces the amount of energy needed to heat a home. This – combined with solar panels, battery storage, Intelligent Energy Systems, and the inclusion of simple LED lights – will achieve these levels of environmentally friendly homes.
In addition, we have committed as part of our corporate plan to implement the principles of the circular economy and will be looking at every aspect of our specification to ensure a cradle-to-grave approach is adopted when we choose the materials we use to build our new homes. It’s a fundamental shift to how we have traditionally designed our homes.
The homes will also be built with the foundational economy in mind, too. Focusing on local materials and utilising local labour to build our homes is a key part of reducing our impact on the planet while we build more homes.
We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline that promise to be a beacon in the decarbonisation agenda.
How do you plan to decarbonise your existing stock?
Decarbonising our existing homes is far more challenging than building new homes. We’ve started by establishing a number of working groups with staff who are particularly knowledgeable and passionate about decarbonisation.
We have identified three key areas we need to overcome: Technical, Financial, and Behavioural. All three are completely integrated within each other, but arguably the most challenging and probably underestimated will be behavioural change.
We believe the starting point begins with data. Ensuring you have accurate and high quality data will really help you understand where you currently are and the extent of the challenges ahead.
We are also part of a great initiative being led by Sero Homes that brings together 68 stakeholders together as part of a Welsh government initiative known as Optimised Retrofit Programme. It has the potential to be a game changer in how the sector decarbonises its housing stock.
Tell us about your tree-planting and B-lines initiatives.
In 2018, we joined Wales’ Bee Friendly initiative. A member of staff was fully trained to become our resident beekeeper, and we installed bee hives at our head office in Baglan.
We have worked closely with Buglife Cymru to create several wildflower and community woodland habitats for pollinators along identified ‘B-lines’. Partnership work with local schools and communities has given pride and value to the projects, which have enhanced green spaces and improved biodiversity in the borough.
With our tree planting initiative, we have committed to planting 100,000 trees over the next five years. So far over 1,500 trees have been planted, and we have recently gifted all 500 staff members a tree to either plant in their garden or gift to the local community.
How are you investing in more sustainable means of transport?
Unfortunately, we are tied in with our current fleet arrangement, so our vehicle fleet still remains mainly diesel. But we plan to change this as soon as we can and plan to be fully electric within the next two years.
That said, we are looking to change where we can, and we have recently taken ownership of a number of electric cars that staff are able to use as the organisations transitions to a greener future. It’s been fascinating seeing the reaction of staff as they drive an electric vehicle for the first time.
You aim to build the first hydrogen house in Wales. How did this ambition come about?
The opportunity has arisen through some really important collaborative working with other like-minded organisations.
The future of how we heat our existing homes is one of high debate and is at a critical crossroad at the moment. For Tai Tarian, we have upgraded nearly 8,000 gas heating systems since 2011, and the prospect of removing them and replacing them with electric heating doesn’t seem to be the right choice at the moment, particularly given the price of electricity when compared with gas. It’s a similar scenario that will be played out in millions of homes in the UK.
Hydrogen could be a key solution to this problem, as it does seem to be a simpler solution to replace an existing gas boiler with a ‘hydrogen ready’ boiler that continues to use the existing pipework and burns zero emissions.
There still remains a lot to do, but every effort is being made to make the idea a reality.
Main image: Tai Tarian employees attend the 2019 Global Climate Strike in Swansea
More from the Sustainability Showcase series:
- Sustainability Showcase | Rooftop Housing Group
- Sustainability Showcase | Adra
- Sustainability Showcase | Valleys to Coast Housing
- Sustainability Showcase | CHP
- Sustainability Showcase | LiveWest
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