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Housing Association Magazine Editor Joe Bradbury discusses our ethical duty of care to our environment and what part housing associations may play in creating a better tomorrow.

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg recently carried with her over a 15-day, 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic a powerful message; "our war on nature must end.”

The 16-year-old sailed from Plymouth to New York on a zero-emissions yacht in order to minimise the carbon footprint of her travel and will be participating in UN climate summits in New York City and Chile.

If anything is to be learned from this, it is that the time for action is now.

In an uncertain future, one thing looks certain – renewables are the answer.

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Editor of Housing Association magazine

Playing our part

Earth Overshoot Day, the day that humanity uses up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for the entire year, fell on the 29th July this year.

This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate.

Earth Overshoot Day has crept up by two months over the past 20 years, with 2019’s date being the earliest since the world began to overshoot in the 1970s.

Regardless of your age, sex, nationality or income, this affects us all.

I need to do my bit and you need to do yours. We all have a duty of care for our planet.

Housing associations could drive the change

The construction industry alone is accountable for around 45-50% of global energy usage, nearly 50% of worldwide water usage, and around 60% of the total usage of raw materials.

It also contributes to 23% of air pollution, 50% of climate change gases, 40% of drinking water pollution, and another 50% of landfill wastes.

Given the fact that 40% of the UK construction industry is residential, one could argue that housing professionals harbour a large portion of our collective social responsibility to lessen our environmental impact, namely through moving towards technologies such as renewable heating and away from our dirty habits of the past.

Shifting habits

3.9 million households in Britain do not currently have gas heating. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing, as we have perceived it to be in the past; as we all know gas is not a renewable source of energy.

Studies have shown that homes without gas heating are more likely to be older and have solid walls, making them largely inefficient.

They are most likely to be located in rural areas, but not exclusively. Many also live in urban areas, particularly in high rise flats where gas in an unsafe or impractical option.

As a result of this, 2.3 million of these gas-free homes in the UK are heated by electricity instead.

This figure is set to rise.

Helping combat fuel poverty

Most of the housing sector is now in agreement that the only tangible long-term sustainable solution for meeting our energy needs, alleviating fuel poverty and doing what is right for our environment would be to establish a properly funded programme to insulate all affected homes and ensure an efficient and up-to-date heating system is installed.

Of course, guaranteeing this outcome would require significant investment – estimated at about £1.7 billion per annum over 15 years.

Although such significant investment seems unfeasible, one must consider how the issue of fuel poverty can severely affect people’s health because homes are often under-heated. Fuel poverty puts enormous pressure on hospitals and doctors surgeries across the country.

This is not only because of the physical and mental impact of living in a cold home, but also because it can actually extend the period of time a vulnerable patient is kept in hospital, with some actually not being  discharged until their home is renovated to habitable state once again.

The impact is estimated to burden the NHS with costs of £1.36 billion per annum.

It is also a known contributor to the 25,000 excess winter deaths per year in England and Wales. As the ageing population increases, with diminishing pensions so will the health risks and related cost.

This is a vast subject that is too big to confine to a single page, but to quickly summarise, a transition towards renewables could save Britain and its people money, tackle the painful crisis of fuel poverty that afflicts them and reduce our carbon footprint in the process; in an uncertain future, one thing looks certain – renewables are the answer.

Joe Bradbury is editor of Housing Association magazine