How is sustainability influencing the new build property market?
There is growing interest in urban sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) in the building industry, more so since COP26 but there is still a lot of greenwashing. We need to be much more sustainable and catch up with other industries such as certain players in the food, travel and retail industries, who are putting sustainability at the top of their priority list if we are going to play our part in becoming net-zero by 2050.
The good news is sustainability is increasingly important to house buyers, particularly first-time buyers who are progressively driven by the sustainability and environmental credentials of their purchases. I don’t think it will be too long before house buyers will be choosing eco-friendly sustainable homes because it’s a dealbreaker for them. Housebuilders are foreseeing this and progressively futureproofing new homes including the addition of air source heat pumps, electric car chargers, underfloor heating, solar panels, super energy-efficient utilities, and excellent insulation which will all begin to come as standard, in addition to innovative water-saving and recycling systems. There may also be changes in the future to mortgages connected with energy efficiency.
Are house buyers willing to pay more to ensure a property has eco-friendly features?
I think at the moment house buyers are reluctant to pay more. One competitor of ours spent 10% more on added eco-friendly features in an endeavour to create a much more energy efficient house and wanted to pass that cost on, but then found it harder to sell as buyers just weren’t ready for the extra cost. But it may well not stay that way. The narrative needs to change. Currently, when a purchaser comes to buy a new home they may focus on the fact that because it is more energy-efficient they will have lower bills. The narrative would need to change to purchasers choosing homes that are more sustainable and use less energy overall and therefore they will have lower bills. The cost saving aspect needs to become an outcome rather than a driver. That’s why I think the sustainability carrot will be more beneficial than a sustainability stick. The benefits of sustainability are endless.
So are you seeing an increased demand in for instance solar panels?
Definitely. At one of our new developments, Alderbrook in Petersfield, part of the planning permission requirements was ensuring the inclusion of solar panels on the social housing; we have decided to go over and above where the planners want us to be and are providing solar panels to all the private homes too. Interestingly as our summers are getting hotter, some new home buyers have asked us for the ability to fit their own air conditioners which use a considerable amount of energy. It is a difficult balance.
You are taking a very personal interest in sustainability in the industry, why is that?
I have just completed an online Leading Sustainable Corporations course at Oxford University’s Said Business School. I was motivated to do this after seeing first hand the detrimental impact of climate change and global warming on the Vatnajokull glacier, the biggest glacier in Iceland, during a training exercise for my forthcoming scientific expedition to ski the Last Degree to the North Pole as part of an all female scientific expedition collecting samples of the sea ice for research into black carbon, microplastics and other studies.
The North Pole is an extremely difficult and treacherous place to reach. There is only a 3-4 week window in the year when the conditions are such that it is possible to set up a temporary base camp on the ice and ski from 89 degrees north to 90 degrees north. Due to the pandemic and latterly the Russian-Ukraine war no one has made this journey since 2018. It is possible that changes in the conditions of the ice on the polar cap caused by global warming means that no one will be able to make this journey by foot ever again. In 1969 the first person skied to the North Pole and the last people skied there in 2018. That would mean that I have seen the first and last person ski to the North Pole in my lifetime. It is terrifying.
As we were unable to travel to the North Pole in 2022 we instead went to Svalbard, a remote Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole to collect samples of the sea ice. These are being analysed at the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton for the presence of microplastics lead and mercury. Samples are also being sent to NASA for critical research into the presence of black carbon and the impact of LAPs (light absorbing particles) on the rate of glacial melting. Seeing their destruction as a result of global warming and climate change was shocking but you only have to look at daffodils in January to see global warming in action or the soaring temperatures in Spain in March.
I came away committed to use my position of influence within the housebuilding sector of the construction industry to effect change for the better.
The issue with tackling global warming is the problems are so huge that companies don’t always know where to start or what to do so we avoid making a voluntary start. Instead, we need to ask how we can behave in ways that mitigate or avoid making a detrimental impact on the environment and nature, so we can safeguard the planet for future generations, as well as try and reverse the damage. Improving our understanding of our own impact will give us the ability to make more informed decisions. For example, did you know that sending an email uses four grams of carbon?
If you're interested in finding out more about Andrea's expeditions you can watch the first of our “Kebb Talks” where she explains how they have inspired new thoughts on sustainability and how we can each take steps to improve what we do: https://youtu.be/sVSRvLHzTfk