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With the launch of World Green Building Week, Martin Fahey looks at why the focus this year is on you and your home.

This week sees the start of this year’s World Green Building Week and when you read headlines from the UN Secretary General saying that “Climate change is moving faster than we are,”' then it is clear to see why we all need to get behind this initiative.

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) is calling on everyone, everywhere to make a simple promise on how they will change something about their home.

The reason for this is that our buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption – which is more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Finding ways to make our own home greener and more energy efficient is something that we can all start to do right now and it doesn’t have to cost the earth – either for us as individuals or for our one and only planet!

If we all reduced our energy consumption by just 20%, this would result in savings of over half a metric ton of CO2 per house and collectively, this is going to result in a huge reduction for the country.

The ‘My #HomeGreenHome promise is a way of finding one simple thing that you can do that will help improve your carbon footprint.  I, for example, already have a hybrid car and recycle as much as I can, so I’m going to get my family to compost food waste more.

So what promise can you make?

Martin Fahey Martin Fahey Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environmental Systems UK

Positive signs

I know some people who feel it’s up to industry and government to sort all this out and that whatever they do as one ‘little’ individual is pointless, but I would argue that serious change is only going to come about when all of us do every little thing we can to make a difference.

And this is where the collective power of individuals really will effect change.

Both government and industry are working hard to find ways to reduce the effects of climate change and, whilst there are many reasons behind this, the growing awareness amongst consumers of the environmental impact that the products they buy is putting pressure on the market.

You see, collectively, individuals can make a difference!

The news that UK carbon emissions in August hit the lowest levels since World War II is an excellent sign that we are making progress but more needs to be done.

So what can you do?

Modern life comes with a carbon footprint, from the energy you use to light or heat your home, to the way you choose to get from A to B.

You (and I) therefore have choice in all of this and you can choose to make a difference by simply examining the everyday things you do, from leaving lights on in empty rooms, running a tap when you brush your teeth, or in the way you drive your car.

The upside of this as well, is that in reducing waste in everything you do, you will actually be saving yourself money, which no-one can object to can they?

Don’t tell me to turn off the lights!

We’ve become used to having everything we want in this modern world but until now, we haven’t had to face up to the environmental cost of it all.

So, we leave the tap running while we brush our teeth, without thought to the energy required to purify the water and get it pumped around the country to our own bathrooms.

We leave TV’s on standby and phones on charge needlessly and this means power is consumed when it’s not needed.

And yes, leaving lights on in empty rooms does consume energy, so this is something you can immediately and simply do to make a difference. I’m of course assuming that we are all using energy saving LED lights now of course!

Slightly bigger steps

The other result of examining where you can make small differences is that you start to look at how much energy you use in your home and see other areas you can / should improve.

Adding a smart meter is one way of immediately helping visualise the amount of energy you’re using in your home.

Going beyond the simple things, these other steps will have a bigger impact, but need either more initial effort or direct upfront cost.  However, you will reap bigger benefits and make greater savings in the longer term.

Insulating your loft is something we can all do, whether getting a professional in or heading down to the hardware store at the weekend. The relatively small outlay is likely to pay for itself long before the winter is over in terms of the money you will save on heating.

Improving the thermal fabric of the building beyond the loft is another area that you could look at. How old are your windows?  Have you already got double glazing? Or could you arrange to change them one by one?

If you have a property with cavity walls, have you had these filled? This will significantly reduce heat loss through these large surface areas.

Sustainable heating

Another area worth looking at is your form of heating.  The government has already recognised that we can no longer continue to rely on gas, oil and other carbon intensive forms of heating, so the future is reliant on electric heating. 

The national grid is getting greener and we have already had several days where a large part of our energy has come from renewable technologies. This makes the case for electric-based forms of heating even stronger.

And this is where the government is backing renewable technologies such as air source heat pumps - already pointing to sales of over a million each year, by 2030.

For many, this still seems like a new technology but actually we’ve been manufacturing our own systems in the UK for more than a decade.

Air source heat pumps use the same basic technology as your refrigerator, only in reverse. Instead of removing the heat from your food inside the box, a heat pump ‘harvests’ free, renewable heat from the outdoor air and upgrades it to provide heating and hot water – even when there is snow on the ground.

And, just like your fridge, they will do this day in, day out, working reliably in the background for years.

So, whether you choose to make the investment in the future of heating now, or simply find quick-fix ways of reducing your energy consumption and monthly bills, join me in at least making a promise in this, one of the most important weeks of the year.

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environmental Systems UK and coordinator of the company’s Green Gateway programme.