Achieving environmental sustainability: why and how?

Martin Hurst, Consultant and Committee Chair at BPHA, discusses the importance of environmental sustainability and how it can be achieved.

It seems like every housing association board has sustainability on its strategy day agenda. Some have a long track record – often with a fuel poverty rationale. But many others are playing catch-up, responding to the 200-plus local councils which have declared a climate emergency.

There is also the government’s new ambition for the UK to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 and (where housing providers have spotted it) the proposed ‘net gain’ approach to biodiversity in land use planning. It is understandable that social housing is considering its role carefully. After all, environment is not in our core social purpose and ambitious moves outside this purpose have not always worked well.

Furthermore, there is still uncertainty about where policy will go. How will a future government seek to ‘decarbonise heat’ – and if it does so, will this mean the end of domestic gas as a fuel? Will the proposed ban on new petrol and diesel cars in the 2030s really happen, and might it even be brought forward?


Despite a myriad unanswered questions, there are several compelling reasons for focusing our attention now:

  1. Greater sustainability can improve the quality of life for our tenants and wider customers. The people who face the largest impact of environmental issues, such as air pollution, are the poorest – 11 % of English households are in formal fuel poverty.
  2. Key stakeholders (such as local authorities, Homes England, Local Economic Partnerships) are increasingly looking for evidence of sustainability when making partnering, funding and planning decisions. So are big lenders.
  3. Retrofitting properties to improve their energy efficiency is expensive. If housing associations are forced to rip out kitchens and boilers there will be a heavy price tag – even if there is some state funding available. Getting ahead of the game makes sense, particularly when there is so much refurbishment of tower blocks going on. Developing associations are building for the future. This future will be carbon light and will see greater risk of drought, flooding and extreme heat. It may also see tougher building regulations and even higher taxation on landfill, use of virgin aggregates, fuel, etc.


So, what should housing associations do?

  1. Map the organisation’s environmental footprint. This includes from housing stock, offices, vehicle fleet and construction, but it should also include waste (including construction waste), biodiversity, water use, damaging air pollutants, etc. And understand the supply chain’s main environmental impact. Many organisations outside housing have found the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a good way of organising this analysis.
  2. Understand the basics of how the climate is likely to change over the next 50-100 years and what it means for existing and new stock. Even if the world holds temperature rises to 2 degrees, the UK is likely to see 4 degree or more spikes in temperatures, particularly in cities, with prolonged periods of heat at levels with serious health effects, sea level rises of 50-100cms, and a large increase in drought and flood risk.
  3. Understand existing technologies. Cutting-edge technologies may well be too risky but basic insulation, energy and water saving technologies, sustainable drainage, recycling and reuse are not rocket science. Nor are community heat and arguably ground source heat pumps – both will grow over the next decade – or building for better ventilation/cooling.
  4. Form a plan which works with the existing business cycle. Adopting an environmental approach to new build, retrofitting kitchens and bathrooms, and major refurbishment are the best places to start. Work with staff to improve the green performance of offices.


Sustainability is on our board agendas to stay – it’s time to ensure we get it right.


To discuss this article, contact Maggie Rafalowicz:

This article is also featured in CT Brief, Issue 46 – Health, Care & Support edition

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

Find out more about CT’s Health, Care & Support Services



View our online services & training directory
This is default text for notification bar