Energy Efficiency
Social Effects
Culture
Urbanization

Renovating our buildings to improve social justice

Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith
02 December 2020

Addressing concerns about energy-poverty and social injustice is possible with the appropriate economic recovery strategy. Here’s how renovations can help.

Wilmcote House, Thermal Properties

Across the world, inequality exists in many societies. This has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways, especially by the adverse conditions vulnerable communities face in their homes, now worsened by stay-at-home orders. Many families struggle to afford to heat their homes, leading to cold and damp environments that can cause long-term health problems. COVID-19 restrictions mean that people will spend more time than ever at home this winter, and this intensifies these issues. 

Addressing inequality and social justice as part of the economic recovery

While governments discuss and debate what stimulus packages can provide the biggest benefits, social justice can also be addressed when economic recovery is designed to create better living places for vulnerable communities. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has already noted that economic recovery is the perfect vehicle to address societal inequality and improve the state of the world for millions of people.

Energy poverty is a major concern for societies around the world. In Europe, 34 million people struggle to cover their energy costs. The building and construction standards of the past did not consider energy efficiency as a priority and, along with poor building practices, have contributed to many families living in homes which are inefficient and expensive to heat. Many low-income households live in the worst-performing buildings – spaces that they are likely to be unable to heat to a healthy standard.

Using minimum energy performance standards to address inequality

In several EU Member States, Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) are now being used as one way to tackle energy poverty. Requiring improvements to the energy performance of buildings will ultimately reduce the costs of heating. France has adopted a set of progressive measures that include blocking rent increases in buildings with poor energy performance by 2021, banning renting buildings with poor energy performance from 2023, and mandating the renovation of the worst-performing buildings by 2028.  In England and Wales, minimum energy efficiency standards have been introduced to ban landlords in the private rented sector leasing out a property with an energy efficiency rating below E. This rule will  include all properties with energy ratings below C by 2028.

However, this is only one part of the solution. Most renovation projects provide limited energy-efficiency improvements, usually only saving as much as 17 percent of the primary energy consumption. Therefore, it will become crucial to set clear quality standards for the energy performance of renovation projects if they are to make a difference in alleviating energy poverty.

Setting ambitious green transition goals to aid economic recovery

This is where the renovation wave can help. The renovation wave strategy seeks to address historical inequalities and improve the living conditions for millions of people around the EU by aiming to renovate 35 million building units before 2030. One of the main aims of the Renovation Wave is to provide healthy and sustainable living conditions for all citizens while limiting the negative impacts on the environment. It will also help meet the sustainability goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.  Renovation projects are usually labour intensive and provide local jobs that helps stimulate local economic activity as well.

For the renovation wave to be successful across Europe, governments and the private sector need to focus on:

  • Setting up minimum energy performance standards to ensure that building renovation programmes have a measurable impact on energy efficiency
  • Providing financial support to kick-start the renovation wave and make it accessible
  • Prioritising affordable, renewable energy sources for all future energy-demand

These actions will enable governments to speed up their economic recovery, help meet carbon targets and address social inequality through improving the living standards of people all over Europe.  If correctly implemented, the renovation wave strategy can be a perfect vehicle to achieve long-term sustainability and alleviate energy poverty.

Areas that need to be improved by the renovation wave

Establishing a renovation standard for the entire EU can maximise the benefit for all communities. However, when defining renovation standards, the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy in London reminds us that we also need to ensure the fire safety of the renovated building. So the renovation wave need to prioritise a holistic overview of building performance that takes into account critical factors such as fire resilience.

For energy-poor households, the choice between heat and food is a major social concern. By increasing the rate and quality of renovations, we can work together to reduce energy-poverty and build a more inclusive society throughout the EU.

ROCKWOOL Group remains committed to helping societies improve their energy-efficiency and create a sustainable future for all communities.