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How can we reduce the social housing carbon footprint? Matt Hickman of VINCI Facilities Building Solutions makes the case...

Everyone is talking about carbon, which is fine, but how do we turn the talk into action and real, effective energy management that’s good for the planet? Matt Hickman of VINCI Facilities Building Solutions makes the case.

Everyone is talking about carbon. It less of a bandwagon and more of an electric vehicle – and now one with green number plates. The risk is that this is just talk. Not whitewash PR but green wash. But it has to be taken seriously and in the social housing sector it means small but important steps. Regardless of political talk and management speak, the move to reduce carbon and improve our energy management in our day to lives, particularly across the built environment is a given. It just makes sense. However, we have to be realistic about what is achievable.


What can suppliers do? The number one priority has to be to consider the end user – the tenants. Not every solution available is going to work. What’s more, some of the technology will be over specified or might require significant customer liaison office support: just how easy is it to adapt to controlling your heat and hot water via an app if you are elderly and not a silver surfer?


VINCI Facilities Building Solutions has been taking practical steps alongside its customers for the past ten years to improve the heating and the lives of social housing tenants across the UK. Much of the UK social housing stock is not energy efficient and this has been a focus at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. External wall insulation has been retrofitted to homes – but not before the residents were consulted with. The small steps we advocate must include strong, clear communication so that everyone understands why the work is important, how it will reduce their bills and to make sure the work required is completed on time, trouble-free, and under budget. Across 350 homes OFGEM (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) calculated carbon savings totalling 11,070 tonnes of CO2.


Saving money for the customer and the tenant is another major benefit, but the impact on the lives of the families and individuals affected by this energy management work cannot be underestimated. But there is a way of delivering these improvements too. A West Bromwich council tenant, Debbie Garmston, became the 5,000th resident to have their home refurbished under Sandwell’s programme with replacement central heating and electrical rewiring, plus a new kitchen and bathroom. Debbie, who suffers with severe ill-heath, said she could not have coped without the help and support of Building Solutions and the council.


Debbie commented: “I’m over the moon with what has been done. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. It took a lot of planning, but everyone was respectful, took care of me and my home, and I am really pleased with the difference that it’s made.”


What contractors do in social housing is not about service level agreements, KPIs, and being lean. It is all important, but what we do is much more about changing the lives of the people affected by our work for the better. Energy management and work to reduce carbon, improve air quality and the installation of more efficient heating systems across social housing stock portfolios is hugely important. But we have to be aware of how we do the work.


That’s one of the reasons why suppliers like VINCI are looking at the types of vehicles we use and planning the movements of our vehicles better. Ideally, we would like to either move our fleet of vans to become electric, or as low carbon as possible. But the practicalities of that are not easy. So, one way we can manage our own carbon footprint better is to plan our work patterns better: travel less, arrange for materials and supplies to be where we need them. It involves smart liaison with tenants – do they know we are coming, will our journey to their home be wasted?


It’s very likely that in future how we work will not just involve commitment to social value and customer service, but also cover off carbon accounting. This is not a new concept, but it is not widely applied across the built environment sector, let alone the housing market itself.

At VINCI Facilities Building Solutions we believe that we have moral duty to serve the communities we work with. We are a private business working for the public good. That includes finding ways to help improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions and enhance people’s health and mental wellbeing. For us energy management is central to that commitment. We’re working on it.


Ask us about how when you visit us on stand H105 or catch Matt Hickman, Client relationship manager in the Insight Theatre at 14.00 on Wednesday 27 November.