Our guest speaker Claire O’Brien, Environmental Sustainability Manager, Grand Union Housing Group, gave an interesting and engaging presentation about retrofit, energy efficiency, and the importance of making messages about these subjects relevant to your audience.
Present: Briony Askew, Clare Robertson-Marriott, Clare Slater, Dave Anderson, David Garlick, Ella Mansfield, Emmie Williamson, Harry Mellor, Hilary Haynes, Jane Wood, Leonie Beale, Naree Lee, Orianne Neyroud, Paola Sabatini, Rupert Knowles, Teresa Cox
Apologies: Alexina Cassidy, Jonathan Harris, Patsy Hollingum, Richard Hollingum, Rupert Frost
Grand Union Housing
Overview of Sustainability Strategy
· Grand Union Housing Group (GU) provide 12,500 homes for more than 27,000 people across Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire. They also provide services for victims of domestic abuse, and supported living arrangements. GU is looking to build around 2k new houses in coming years.
· GU’s sustainability strategy is about more than carbon; their vision is to have an overarching sustainability strategy embedded in goals for every department.
· Later this year carbon literacy training is being delivered to all staff with line management responsibilities (c25% of workforce).
· Actions to date include switching to fully green energy tariff, which was supported by the business despite there being a cost implication.
· On energy efficiency GU objective is to have all properties with an EPC rating of C or above by 2030. In 2022 42% homes were at EPC C, 45% D or below. 17% were A rated and 13% B rated.
· There is a programme to carry out EPCs on properties which don’t have one or where it is about to run out.
· GU have secured Social Housing Decarbonisation funding to retrofit c169 properties. They have already carried out 100 retrofit assessments
· They are also looking at their business operations and are keen to decarbonise their fleet of 80 vans. This is quite complicated due to charging infrastructure. Employees take the vans home and preference would be to instal home chargers however not all live in properties where this is suitable. In addition tools are stored in vans and charged on the go and the impact of this on vehicle range is unknown.
· Compliance with ESOS (Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme) regulations on communal and block properties will also improve energy efficiency.
· In general, the conversation about sustainability can be a bit ‘snobby’, for example, aspirational messages in the media about the long term destination and thinking about future generations. Talking to GU customers about impacts overseas doesn’t resonate.
· Some of their customers are vulnerable and it’s important to emphasise social and financial benefits alongside environmental. The former two are the main motivation for GU customers. Many will be in fuel poverty, so talk to them first about having a more energy efficient system, and the social benefits such as a warmer home; important if people are vulnerable or carers, enables people to work from home and children to do homework in comfort.
· GU ran a customer survey on sustainability and retrofit to help make communications more relatable. Most important environmental issue was price – many ‘greener’ options are not affordable e.g. EV ownership.
· Most customers stay up to date with environmental issues through TV or social media.
· 81% of people expect efficiency measures to result in lower energy bills, but with current fuel prices, it is more likely that home improvements will mitigate future price rises.
· It was also important to find out things like how much notice people would like if improvements are being carried out. Sometimes the required delivery time for grant funded work results in unfairness as timescales are shorter than homeowners might choose, or work might have to be done at an undesirable time (e.g. during school holidays).
· Customers are also concerned about mess and disruption, and there is a particular challenge with working at the homes of vulnerable and disabled customers.
Following Claire’s presentation, attendees had a number of wide-ranging questions, which allowed Claire to show just how much she knows! This is a selection of the questions and answers:
Have GU considered using newer building methods?
GU aim to build c200 properties a year (which in developer terms is small) and have looked at lot of options in terms of building style including modular building and Passivhaus. These come at substantially higher cost, plus the supply chain and contractors are relatively scarce. GU have to balance meeting housing needs with sustainability, but are making a number of changes within the constraints of conventional building methods.
GU have compared themselves to large private developers and found those are doing much less in terms of sustainable development. If big builders led the way this would drive economies of scale.
Can you talk more about the social benefits?
As a housing association GU take a wider view. For them warmer homes = more comfort for customers, which means they are more likely to stay (good for GU and the customer). A long-term and comfortable home means improvement in quality of life and an overall better customer experience. However there is a need for pragmatism – some customers are very resistant to change. Need to think about what would make them willing to accept efficiency measures.
What if the carbon literacy training is resisted by some employees?
Claire and the training team have talked about how to approach climate deniers. A script will be prepared to help the trainers deal with objections, covering points such as: ask trainees to have an open mind; emphasise that training doesn’t cover the arguments against climate change; think about the social and financial co-benefits for customers.
GU’s focus on sustainability will accelerate (rather like Health & Safety in the past) and will be part of the job description for all employees so it will be in their own interests to be on board. Claire is hoping staff will take the learning home and make changes there too.
Reports from recent events
CA-WN members have been out and about recently and this is a brief report on two events that both aimed to bring different groups together to achieve strength in numbers:
· Climate Chaos - an evening event on 10 May organised by Transition Town Northampton (TTN)
· A two day Sustainability Summit at the University of Northampton 15/16 May.
Climate Chaos event
About 35 people attended, including WNC councillors, parliamentary candidates, XR and Just Stop Oil activists. And many others.
Main speaker Paul Allen from Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). The key points from his talk in brief:
· The problem of meeting the challenge of climate change was described as a ‘Wicked’ problem – Wicked in that it’s a really complicated and particularly challenging problem to solve with feedback that moves the problem along and where there’s no single solution.
· CAT have produced a Zero Carbon Britain [ZCB] report outlining a possible scenario with five wicked solutions – wicked in that they embody feedback that accelerate their effectiveness:
1. Having and sharing a positive vision. This included Powering Down - reducing energy demand, and Powering Up – increasing energy from renewables
2. Taking advantage of falling technology costs. already seen this with wind and solar systems, a virtuous cycle of demand can reduce the costs of housing retrofit.
3. Inspiring new leadership. Getting organisations to step up their action plans – including councils
4. Exploit the power of real life on the ground projects. Create a positive vision by sharing information about projects that are delivering real change.
5. Multi-solving. Identifying and maximising the co-benefit of collateral action.
Further details at https://cat.org.uk/time-for-wicked-solutions/
The talk was followed by a good debate, sometimes heated. The next steps are more ‘gatherings’ and possibly a Citizens’ Assembly.
A University of Northampton initiative to create a Sustainable Business Hub with this inaugural summit delivering a Sustainable Business Accord listing key aspirations that will be monitored in coming months and reviewed annually at successive Sustainability Summits.
· CA-WN members attended business- focused presentations, Q&A panels, and took part in breakout sessions.
· First day included a brilliant presentation by the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Cranfield University, the climate scientist Professor Chris Fogwill, who explained the cause of our climate crisis with some complex diagrams that summarised over 100,000 years of scientific data collected at the South Pole where the behaviour of the ice sheets heavily influence the ocean currents that in turn determine global weather patterns.
Some of the businesses and organisations represented:
- UoN who are increasing the energy efficiency of some of their older buildings.
- BlueSkies – a business that imports fresh fruits that are prepacked in the countries where they are grown - including Ghana, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt. Not sustainably perfect but adding value to the communities where the fruit is grown and prepared and very conscious of their environmental impact. Two organisations set up by BlueSkies: FreshpPact are looking to improve the eco record of fresh produce across the sector. are trying to get rid of plastic mulch by finding biodegradable alternatives; and the Sustainable Business Alliance formed in partnership with the University of Northampton Centre for Sustainable Business Practices
- Chartered Institute of Waste Management Northampton-based, who see waste as a potential resource.
- Sustainable Leather Foundation
- Good Business Charter – certification body
- West Northamptonshire Council
- Farrington Oils – Mellow Yellow fresh pressed rapeseed oil processed on its own farms
- Weetabix (focusing on ingredients, packaging, sustainable operations, health & wellbeing)
- Freefoam– construction products like insulation, practise closed loop production and focus on end of life solutions
- Goodwill solutions – social enterprise and working warehouse
- Nene Group – warehouse racking systems
There were breakout sessions on both days – output from the summit was the Northampton Sustainability Accord, there will be a hub based at UoN to make sure commitment is followed through, and to organise future summits and smaller events.
Key points – big focus on collaboration and amazing plant based food throughout.
o May celebration 19 May at South Court Environmental (Abington Lodge)
o Greener Byfield sustainable family event at Byfield pocket park on Saturday 20 May
o David Garlick will be speaking at Abington Library on Thursday 1 June at 2pm