The Great British Refurb - Reuse, Recycle, Refurb

Jo Matthews

Last updated 10/13/2009 5:59:46 PM

So I may have just signed myself up for mortgage, but sack that off, I’ve changed my mind and decided I want an eco-pod instead.  A kind of environmentally friendly-hobbit-bungalow-come-igloo, designed to dramatically reduce a home’s energy requirements and its carbon footprints over a lifetime.

And whilst I’m at it, get me one of those rainwater harvesting systems, some solar thermal panels and a ground source heat pump.  And I’d like some new-aged wellingtons to complete the look and complete my statement about the nimbleness of my environmental footprint.

If you want to live in a cleaner, greener way, there are indeed some amazing things on the market for those with the money and the inclination to tackle a new build and make it sustainable, watertight, airtight, heat-tight – the whole shebang. Just watch an episode of Grand Designs and you’ll see what I mean.  But for the likes of us normal folk - with our draughty windows and our radiators circa 1645 - there have to be some other, simpler, and, dare I say it cheaper options. It’s not that we don’t care; it’s just that it has got to be easier than an eco-pod.

Enter Kevin McLeod, the guru of sustainable design, and his army of supporters, who have launched the Great British Refurb Campaign. The campaign is supported by the WWF, the Energy Saving Trust and the UK Green Building Council, and is run in collaboration with the Guardian’s 10:10 campaign. Designed to tackle the ‘ecological credit crunch’, the campaign encourages green refurbishment across Britain by persuading the government to help finance the refurbishment and retrofitting of existing homes through clever schemes, tax breaks and incentive schemes.

Because the fact is that it’s not about building new homes, but about improving the ones we already have.  27% of CO2 emissions in Britain come from our weathered, old, leaky, loved houses. To reach the 2050 target that the UK government has pledged to – cutting CO2 levels by 80% in 2050 - Britain needs to have retrofitted 50,000 homes to low carbon standards by the end of 2010.  By the end of 2011 another 100,000 will need to be refitted, come 2020 we need to be refurbishing 1.6 million homes each year.  And of the 26 million homes in Britain, 85% of the homes of 2050 are already in existence.  So just hold off on my eco-pod there one second, I’d better get moving on my existing flat instead.

And it’s there where I can make a realistic difference without breaking the bank, and without a Grand Designs-esque nervous breakdown that new builds tend to induce.  The Energy Saving Trust asserts it is about making incremental changes, that, however small they seem, have the power to make real and lasting change.  Changes that don’t put people off with fears of money-draining-stress-inducing-time-consuming measures whereby houses are stripped to their skeleton forms and padded with futuristic cotton wool.  All we have to do is start keeping an eye on our water consumption, turning off our heating when we can, getting thermostats on those radiators, getting loft insulation, minimising our food waste, even get a water butt if we are feeling frisky.

The Great British Refurb encourages these smaller incremental changes in line with the 10:10 campaign, which asks individuals and organisations to cut their emissions by 10% in 2010.  But it simultaneously puts pressure on the government to incentivise the bigger changes that we’re all too skint for and scared of. 

At the London Grand Designs Live Show Ed Miliband announced that they were introducing a guaranteed price in 2010 for renewable electricity generated by households and communities that’s sold back to the grid.  Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is offering ‘The Green Deal’ which would provide £6.5k worth of energy efficiency improvements for every household.

The crux of the Great British Refurb campaign is to make it ‘easier, more affordable and more attractive for everyone to go green’.  And as Kevin himself puts it, it ‘represents a journey where we begin to judge our lives less in terms of ‘standard of living’ which has come to embody ideas of speed, convenience and the value of material goods like cars and televisions – and more in terms of quality of life – happiness, sociability and a sense of well-being.’ 

It is not about buying more or building more, it is simply about improving what we already have, and realising that small changes have the power to make a big difference.

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