Climate change brings the potential to affect all our lives at a global level and in a range of ways, both small scale and large scale. At Advance we recognise the responsibility that companies, employers and individuals must assume to promote greener ways of living, working and functioning as a society in order to tackle climate change.
The Coronavirus pandemic has presented many challenges to the working environment and how housing associations and support providers function on a day to day level. We have adapted the ways in which we work at Advance to ensure the safety of our customers as well as our employees. As a result, much of the human activity which contributes to climate change has been reduced. As in many sectors, these changes will be pushing us to reflect on how we work and how we can be sure to make our own efficient efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.
Did you know:
- The UK is already affected by rising temperatures.
- The most recent decade (2008-2017) has been on average 0.8 °C warmer than the 1961-1990 average.
- All ten of the warmest years on record in the UK have occurred since 1990 with the nine warmest occurring since 2002.
Find out more here.
- 8 million tonnes of the world’s plastics end up in our oceans each year, creating a garbage patch three times the size of France.
- In 2015, the UK introduced a ‘5p carrier bag tax’ to reduce our plastic bag consumption. And it worked. We now use around 83% fewer single-use bags than we did in 2014. Read more here.
National Housing Federation
The NHF is the trade body for the housing association sector – influencing, campaigning and educating on behalf of associations. Climate Change and Sustainability is one of the areas that they focus on. Representatives from Advance regularly attend meetings and events organised by the NHF to engage in issues in the sector and work going forward. ‘The UK has set in law a target to bring all its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. To achieve this target, the government’s ambition is to improve the energy efficiency of homes, and move to cleaner ways of heating homes, in order to halve the energy use of new buildings by the end of this decade.
Decarbonising Britain’s homes is not only an essential part of tackling climate change, it also saves residents money, helps combat fuel poverty, boosts the economy and creates jobs.
We've been talking to our members to explore how social housing and housing associations can play a central part in this.’
Our Environmental Objectives
At Advance we are taking action to reduce the environmental impact of our homes and services. This is a commitment which applies to all areas of our work as an organisation and is reflected in our plans each year. We have the following objectives to motivate this work:
- We will do all we can to meet the Government policy to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
- We will also continue to invest in reducing our environmental impact.
- We will lower carbon emissions and work with our customers to improve energy efficiency and water consumption.
Of course, we want to have quality homes and services at Advance and we want the organisation to grow in a sustainable way. We are therefore working to improve the overall energy efficiency of our homes and to ensure that our new property developments reduce our environmental impact.
Environmental action runs through all three of our main strands of our 2020-23 Strategy – quality homes and services, sustainable growth and high organisational performance. As a high performing organisation, over the past year Advance has been able to adapt with strength to overcome the challenges faced by the coronavirus pandemic. These adaptations have inevitably involved less travel, staff working from home and conferences being held virtually. These are all factors which will have reduced our carbon footprint in the past year – with office spaces, electricity, printing materials and heating having been used at bare minimum, if at all. We will be reviewing these adaptations and all lockdown learnings in order to improve and build on our agile working systems and continue to reduce our environmental impact.
Advance’s Environmental Action Group
We have a dedicated Environmental Action Group leading the work taking place at Advance. The group consists of a team of staff members from a range of departments and is led by Gary Webb (Strategic Asset Manager) who reports to our Executive Director of Housing, Ian Gilders.
In the group’s action plan, a clear focus of activity is set out. This includes:
- Increasing the number of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) in place for Advance properties
- Improving our average energy efficiency ratings (SAPs) on the EPCs we already have
- Reviewing any properties with a rating below 55 – with our target average of 69+ in mind
- Tracking and reducing energy usage in our homes and focussing on high use properties. This includes tracking CO2, gas, water and electric usage.
- Engaging staff in sharing the message about reducing energy and our environmental impact so they can make changes in their work and talk to customers about it
- Sharing information with customers and helping them to improve their own energy efficiency and to help us reduce the environmental impact of all our Housing and Support services
- Developing a new Environmental Policy for Advance
- Beginning our strategic planning towards a net zero 2050 target so our work now can feed into longer-term action
The group has a designated project page on our staff intranet for all staff to access. The page includes information on the activity and commitments of this group as well as a guidance document full of tips and advice on how to be more environmentally friendly both in the workplace and at home.
Working to increase the energy efficiency of our properties is a long term project but we are simultaneously considerate of the shorter term areas that we can focus on – such as ensuring appliances that are replaced or repaired in an environmentally conscientious way. We make sure that all our contractors, doing repairs or maintenance, provide us with information on their environmental policy and practice.
We are currently working with a specialist contractor to access ECO funding to make practical improvements in several of our homes. We have also started a project to trial the use of green alternatives to traditional gas boilers, and particularly how best to make such alternatives effective in use for our customers – people with a learning disability or a mental health condition. Our Housing team is also working to make sure that all staff working in Housing have a consistent approach when it comes to environmental issues and know how they can work with our customers to improve energy efficiency and reduce our output as an organisation as well as individuals. This ranges from energy efficient lightbulbs to building insulation to maintaining communal spaces. We also work on new developments at Advance. When we develop new properties we aim for the best energy rating possible.
In our administrative properties where Advance staff work and meet, office coordinators keenly promote environmentally friendly attitudes. This is especially relevant in relation to printing and waste. All our office spaces have clearly labelled waste bins for recycling purposes and use secure confidential waste recycling companies for sensitive documents.
At our London office, for example, Tracy McNamara is office coordinator and has always encouraged environmentally friendly approaches. Having clear posters and visible systems for recycling has made it very easy for the London office staff to adopt a ‘green’ approach. In fact, Tracy has recently received her certificate for recycling in 2020 - 11 trees were saved just from that one office!
The coronavirus pandemic has obviously affected how we work and has meant we have been able to further reduce our emissions by our employees travelling less, using less electricity in office environments and not printing as much. As the situation eases, we will be reflecting on what to take forward from this experience going forward within an environmental framework as well as in terms of the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers.
While we are investing in our properties in Housing, in Support we are working with teams to encourage services as well as customers to reduce waste, recycle and be conscious of environmental action on a small as well as more general level.
One of the most popular ways that Advance customers have been engaging with the environment is through gardening. This brings the opportunity to learn about nature, recycling, sustainability and health living. Since the pandemic, spending time outdoors has become especially valuable and we have seen many customers spend time gardening and making the most of the space they have – whether that is a windowsill or a back garden.
Green team spirit
Julia, Adam and Andrew are three of our tenants in Worcester. During the pandemic they decided to keep busy by transforming their garden, with some help from support worker Maureen.
They have cajoled and persuaded local businesses to supply them with some materials and plants and have even started to grow their own vegetables and make it a more convivial area to live in.
Old tyres have been spray painted and with top soil inside. They are now growing lettuce, squash and courgettes!
Tomatoes and chillies are starting to appear and with the expert help and advice of housing outreach worker John, an unwanted water feature is being transformed into a herb garden.
Old garden chairs have also been spray painted and unwanted trellises have been coloured. The next plan is to grow Honeysuckle and Clematis.
An overgrown pergola has been cut right back and will be the next job for the productive trio!
In September 2020 we announced a new gardening fund after a successful bid to the National Lottery Community Fund. As a result we have been able to give services money for their own gardening projects, big or small. Additionally we used this as an opportunity to encourage ‘green thinking’ such as avoiding plastic waste by reusing pots, using biodegradable trays and protecting native wildlife.
One of our support services in Essex has already been busy making the most of the funding.
Customer Brett has been very busy working on his own sensory garden. He finds gardening a relaxing and enjoyable hobby, and enjoys watching things grow and develop.
After spending all last year working on transforming the back garden into something lovely, we managed to get the gardening fund so that Brett could work his magic on the front of the house. Brett and the other two customers have a very good relationship with their neighbours so making the front of the house look nice was quite important to them, they stress that people in the street will judge them if they don’t make an effort. So Brett got to work and is nearly finished now, he is waiting for the spring so he can get back out there.
Brett is over the moon and loves it when people take an interest in his achievement and gardening activities.