Making the Earth a more beautiful and sustainable common home for everyone also means rethinking the spaces we live in. How can we improve the way we design our homes, build them, live in them and share them so that they become more resource-efficient, comfortable and healthy? Which solutions contribute to making them more sustainable? We meet with some of the Key stakeholders involved in making this transition.
“Housing is a major challenge because it is the point of entry for economic, social and cultural inclusion. So it must be intrinsically sustainable.”
“Housing is a major challenge, because it is the point of entry for economic, social and cultural inclusion. It must be intrinsically sustainable, which means it must be constructed in such a way as to provide stability and dependable living conditions for the long term. This is a crucial issue, especially for migrants, because access to proper housing is a precondition for their effective integration. So at UN-Habitat, we see the challenge as not only building housing units, but also building the cities of tomorrow for resilient communities in order to provide a better life for everyone. This conviction led us to launch our Housing for All campaign, which is designed to remind everyone that housing is more than just having a roof over our heads; it is the cornerstone of health, dignity, safety, inclusion and wellbeing for everyone on this Earth.
UN-Habitat sees the concept of sustainability as absolutely fundamental. Since the 2006 climate change conference, we have refocused our work on the development of sustainable and eco-friendly construction. In this particular area, and on the wider issues around the right to decent housing, we are convinced that the necessary changes will happen if every construction ecosystem stakeholder commits to developing a common vision of tomorrow’s cities. So we provide our support to national and local governments as part of helping them to implement sustainable housing policies and programs. And so in the same way as the World Urban Forum we host every two years, we work to encourage and facilitate open dialog between governments, the world of research and the private sector, which is now running highly innovative R&D programs that inspire us in our quest for solutions and new technologies with the potential to make housing more resilient, especially in areas at risk of flooding, for example.
As with our other programs, our intervention takes two forms. The first is to act as a central point for research around the legislative frameworks that will eventually govern construction standards, projects and housing assistance. The second looks at the economic aspects: how do we create new jobs? How can we have a long-term impact on local and national economies? To answer questions like these, we work closely with our partners in the field to adopt and promote operational solutions that help cities and entire countries to improve funding and access to housing for all. More specifically, we promote the use of alternative building materials that deliver multiple benefits by being more resilient to climate change and reducing construction costs. One of our primary tasks is to incorporate an essentially cultural element into housing, because if housing is to be sustainable, it’s important that we promote and encourage construction techniques and types of housing that align fully with situations, cultures and lifestyles, and architectural solutions that local people, some of whom have been recently displaced or subject to conflict, will be able to reproduce by themselves in the longer term.”
Construction companies are leading the way in the development of more sustainable housing. They are also working to accelerate this transformation by integrating environmental concerns at every stage of their value chain, and building partnerships with international institutions like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
“At Saint-Gobain, we believe that sustainable construction must deliver effective responses to three challenges: health and wellbeing, energy and climate, and resources and the circular economy.”
How does Saint-Gobain's concern for the environment guide its strategy?
In 2010, we set ourselves the goal of setting the benchmark for sustainable housing. That goal was developed out of the realization that it was no longer possible to continue designing, building and renovating buildings as we had been doing up to that point, and for two reasons. The first is that we believe that it’s important to provide healthier, more comfortable buildings to an increasingly urban global population that spends 80% of its time indoors. The second is that the construction sector is the largest consumer of natural resources at around 40% of global consumption, and also the largest contributor to climate change, generating 38% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So to be sustainable, construction has to respond effectively to these challenges. The objective is to construct buildings that have both a positive effect on the well-being of their occupants and a reduced impact on the environment throughout their life cycle.
What are the main priorities for this work?
At every link in its value chain and in all its key markets, Saint-Gobain is ideally positioned to take on these challenges and deliver them successfully. We need to expand and enhance the products and services we offer for more sustainable buildings. This means developing solutions that contribute to the thermal, acoustic and visual comfort of occupants and improve indoor air quality, at the same time as reducing building energy consumption. These solutions must also conserve natural resources and reduce carbon footprints, particularly as a result of reduced weight, recycled material content and end-of-life recyclability. Lastly, they must pose no risk to the health and safety of worksite teams. To achieve this, we rely on innovation, which must - of course - address all these issues, but also on making significant developmental improvements to our purchasing and manufacturing processes.
How is the Group interacting with other construction industry stakeholders to address these issues?
We collaborate actively with other institutions and companies in order to promote sustainable construction, explain its importance, demonstrate its feasibility and thereby accelerate the pace of market transformation. This is the basis of our partnership with the World Green Building Council, whose Better Places for People campaign we support. We also contribute to the work of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development on decarbonization and the circular economy. Lastly, we’re members of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, which helps governments to accelerate their transition to low-carbon buildings. We’re absolutely convinced that looking beyond the commitment shown by the Saint-Gobain Group, getting stakeholders to work dynamically together is the most effective way of delivering change quickly.
Developing tomorrow's sustainable housing also means reinventing the way we design our homes, build them, live in them and share them to make them more resource-efficient. One of the initiatives that seems set to develop further is co-housing, which offers residents a better quality of life by sharing services and facilities.
THEY DID IT
“By pooling space and services within strong communities, co-housing offers a promising solution for sustainable housing.”
“Co-housing first emerged in Denmark during the 1970s. Since then, it has taken a variety of forms depending on the communities themselves, and now represents 5% of households in the country. We work to develop this concept in Belgium, before moving on to do so in other countries around the world. The co-housing principle is about building communities that bring together people who share the same ethical, social and environmental values. These communities then commit to pooling their resources and work together on building and funding their homes within a collectively managed group of buildings. So we’ve set up a digital platform where people can register their interest, explain their housing needs and link up with others who have similar plans and want to live in the same area.
So to help them, we have produced a set of guiding principles covering all the stages involved to help them make the best choices. The future residents then work together to identify a building for renovation or a plot of land to build on. Then, consistent with their ecological commitments, they generally choose sustainable and resilient materials with which to build passive energy buildings. The end result makes co-housing a genuinely sustainable housing solution by enabling energy consumption to be shared, creating smaller buildings and shared parking - and therefore a smaller footprint - and by sharing vehicles, facilities and equipment. But it also goes further than that, because each co-housing project creates long-term mutually supportive communities, even in city centers: children play together, support each other, and the social fabric is genuinely relationship and intergenerational.”
So as we’ve seen, envisioning the housing of tomorrow requires us to rethink the way we design and live in our homes. At grassroots level, construction companies are also developing new modular construction solutions based on prefabricated products. As effective facilitating levers of sustainable construction, they make it possible to convert existing buildings easily, make high-quality sustainable materials more accessible, and reduce the ecological impact of construction worksites.