Current Challenges: The current climate crisis is pervasive in nearly all aspects of our lives. From official reports in the media, to targeted YouTube ads, the need for "greener" action is being called for. With the understanding that no solution will be an easy fix, all industrial sectors have a responsibility to review their operational processes and do their bit to mitigate the climate crisis. The decarbonization milestone markers of 2030 and 2050 are inexorably looming and the need to achieve the desired goal of less under 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. A challenge seen by many with these goals is the more immediate hardship faced by many UK residents concerning the cost-of-living situation. Households have the pressing issues of groceries, electricity bills, and staying warm over the winter right at their doorstep. The nature of the multifactor problem pushes the government, businesses, and households into a challenging position to prioritise which issue takes precedence.
Project Action: Cynon Taf Community Housing Association (CTCHG) is a locally focused housing association in the Rhondda Cynon Taf county of South Wales. The association manages a stock of just under 1900 residences, all located in the county valleys. The association created a bold project idea, along with the Down to Zero subsidiary, to design a unique strategy to mitigate both issues. Utilizing a SMART partnership, with the Welsh Government and Cardiff Metropolitan University, a multidisciplinary team has been formed to provide the skill and knowledge to accomplish this task. Interacting daily with residences and residents allows CTCHG unique opportunities to address the climate crisis and cost of living crisis simultaneously.
The Welsh national data (shown in figure 1 below) list the residential sector as contributing approximately 10% of emissions in 2019. This value accounts for the operational carbon emission equivalents, those produced from the daily operation of the residence. What is not included is the embedded carbon in residential buildings, including the emission equivalents produced during the resource extraction, material production, construction, and end of life phases for each building. It is estimated that the lifecycle of buildings contributes 40% of global carbon emissions, as sectors ranging from industry to energy production & use all contribute into a structure. Through assessing and auditing the housing stock, recommendations can be made and executed to reduce the overall carbon audit. Exchanging traditional carbon intense materials for modern green options significantly decarbonizes the initial embodied carbon and reduce embodied carbon additions when repairs are completed. Additionally, improved residential designs or retrofits lower the energy and water inputs into the household, this helps to decarbonize the residence while also lowering the bills of input resources such as gas, electricity, and water.
Figure 1: Showing the emissions by sector for Wales measured in 2019 and presented by Data for Wales – National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory/Defra, providing the full source of data. Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-58706283, Accessed 26.10.22
Project Objective: The objectives of the project include establishing and implementing a methodology for conducting a comprehensive organisational carbon (both embodied and operational) audit and assessment to produce a benchmark. A second objective is to undertake an evaluation of CTHG’s operations to determine opportunities for carbon reduction over short, medium, and long-term timeline with milestones to deliver net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. The third objective is to appraise carbon sequestration options through land-based activities, such as planting trees and vegetation that not only sequesters carbon but also provides sustainable and local food such as fruit, vegetables, and herbs for local communities. In addition, we are also going to explore installing beehives for natural pollination and honey production. To keep the crops and bees happy we are also going to plant flowers as natural deterrents to pests and for pollen and nectar.
With CTCHG’s commitment to their residents and community, we have the additional focus of providing financial, health and wellbeing, and social sustainability benefits and outcomes along with the environmental benefits of decarbonisation. The project outcomes not only aim to reduce the carbon stored in or produced by CTCHG’s buildings (offices), housing stock, and organisational operations, but also promote food sustainability and local educational engagement. The assembled team is committed to provide a unique project plan that infuses the values of CTCHG in a way that mitigates the climate crisis and while also facing the steadily growing cost-of-living challenge in Wales.
Project Strategy in Detail: This project aims to complete the three primary objectives within a year, with a targeted launch scheduled in fall 2023. Each phase will provide a section for the final decarbonization and land-based sequestration strategy document. After the year long partnership the strategy will be launched by CTCHG and used to achieve their net-zero objective.
Objective 1: Audit & Assess
An evaluation and calculation of both the embedded carbon and operational carbon for the CTCHG standing stock will provide the baseline carbon value that needs to be reduced or sequestered. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) software will be used to streamline the modelling and data entry processes though this stage. Operational carbon emissions are the total emissions from all energy sources used to operate buildings including heating, ventilation, lighting, and power. Whereas embodied carbon emissions result from all energy sources used to extract, process, manufacture, and transport materials to be used in the construction of new buildings, or repair and retrofit existing buildings. The analysis will be completed by categories of residences, not individually, to ensure a realistic project that can still deliver significant information. The LCA process is adherent to ISO guidelines, providing a recognized metric for sustainable evaluation, click for more info!
Outcome: The calculated amount of carbon equivalents that must be offset (reduced, stored, and sequestered) to achieve net zero carbon.
Figure 2: Presenting the simplified lifecycle of a residential building archetype with brief descriptions included
Objective 2: Reduce Hotspots
A significant outcome of the carbon assessment will be carbon comparisons of materials and processes in the buildings. The comparative data illustrates hotspots where the most carbon emission equivalents are being created to complete that material or process. These hotspots will be included in the strategy as targeted refurbishments or upgrades to decarbonise the buildings and increase the efficiency of the operational energy use. Our final carbon reduction plans will include short-, medium-, and long-term milestones to provide a roadmap to have the best chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2030.
Outcome: A plan for targeted carbon reduction options, advised through hotspots identified in the audit data. These improvements will reduce the input of water, gas, and electricity saving for building occupants, to reduce energy bills.
Objective 3: Sequestration
Reliance on carbon reduction alone to meet the milestone goals is not possible due to the resource needs for refurbishments and upgrades. The remaining carbon that needs to be accounted for to meet each milestone goal can only be sequestered. Carbon sequestration sees the carbon stored to avoid it entering the atmosphere. Our strategy for this project will incorporate land-based sequestration plans, whereas a follow-on project will explore carbon storage through materials and technologies; as carbon reduction and sequestration may not eliminate all the organisational carbon emitted or to be emitted before net zero carbon is reached. Land-based carbon sequestration solutions provide an opportunity to use natural options solutions to convert, sink, and store carbon emissions. These land-based solutions offer an opportunity to benefit the local community (outlined in figure 3 below). A major goal for the project is to bolster social sustainability in the local area through growing local produce and providing opportunities for community involvement on site. Building volunteer opportunities is already well underway with the Down to Zero project. Land-based solutions offer a great opportunity for local educational engagement and may generate green jobs in the local area.
Outcome: A sequestration strategy (including the short-, mid-, and long-term benchmarks) to balance the remaining carbon equivalents at each stage to achieve national decarbonisation goals.
Figure 3: Describing land-based sequestration techniques broadly along with our intended solutions included in this project
Sharing the Project Outcomes: A main deliverable from the SMART partnership program, and a focus for this project, is the sharing of knowledge. Looking past the direct benefits to the project partners, valuable knowledge will be added to the disciplines of household sustainability and the sustainable built environment. A growing connection network is forming to cultivate knowledge pathways, recently including the Community Housing Cymru (CHC) body, increasing the dissemination of knowledge gained. Household sustainability knowledge is a vital outcome as it applies to nearly all people, spanning regional and sectoral boarders. The strategies developed for both decarbonization, and carbon sequestration can benefit project at scales from an individual working to decarbonize their own residence to housing associations improving or offsetting their own carbon & carbon emissions from their residential stock.
As an extension from this objective, posts shared in this blog will highlight the carbon reduction and carbon sequestration success throughout the project lifespan. Connecting readers to the ethos of land-based solutions will encourage both literacy and action towards greener sequestration options, through communicating the triple bottom line achievements of financial, social, and environmental sustainability.
Project Contacts & Communication: Any queries can be DM'd to @Jack_Net0 Follows and updates will be shared on @Jack_Net0 and @DowntoZ For inquiries about sustainable local volunteering contact email@example.com
*Note images in figures 2 & 3 were created using Canva under free licence, graphic credit goes to Canva.com, accessed & designed Oct.26.2022