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Sustainable housing:issues and challengesfor housing retailers


Issues and challenges of sustainable housing: how does the transformation of living spaces impact housing retailers? 

Given the current environmental challenges, sustainable housing appears to be a major point of interest for players in the property and construction sector. After having worked on prestigious projects in London, structural engineer Germain Hot chose to dedicate his skills to social and environmental projects, like those of the Long Way Home association in Guatemala. His insight on sustainable housing helps us understand the challenges faced by the industry. 

Issues and challenges of sustainable housing: why lean towards a sustainable lifestyle?

The construction industry currently generates 40% of global emissions. In 2018, the production of electricity was the biggest emitting sector in the world, with 41% of total emissions from energy combustion. Transportation was next (25%), followed by the industrial sectore (18%, including construction). 

With this in mind, it is necessary to reduce our carbon footprint by choosing eco-friendly housing. In France, the DPE (energy performance certificate) classifies buildings based on their energy efficiency, from A to G+. Governments provide financial support to encourage renovation: in 2007, the “Grenelle de l’environnement”, a French environmental policy conference, stressed the importance of improving thermal comfort while saving energy. 

The long-term goal is to achieve carbon neutrality and “energy sobriety” by 2050. In order to do that, we should all look into sustainable, eco-friendly solutions. 

When it comes to housing, we should “chose the sustainable option, avoid housing that wastes energy and focus on renovation. This can be done through better thermal insulation with eco-friendly materials, or through the installation of double-glazed windows”. Germain Hot also emphasizes the importance of using materials that have until now been considered waste or unusable for construction, such as dirt, tires or plastics, provided that certain rules are respected to avoid contaminating the soil and groundwater. 

How to adopt a sustainable lifestyle :  

  • Save energy by choosing LED bulbs or low consumption devices: a LED bulb consumes up to 10 times less energy than a halogen bulb; 
  • Reduce water consumption with low-flow devices, which use up to 30% less water. 
  • Recycle and compost to limit water and energy consumption: one ton of recycled plastic saves six months of energy and four months of water per person; 
  • Switch off the lights, take short showers: five minutes using a regular shower head means 75 liters of water, or up to 157 euros a year 
  • Make efforts in your everyday life: if you tend to forget to switch the lights off, install sensors to reduce your bill. This is an easy source of energy savings as well as an easy to implement eco-friendly gesture, as lighting represents 5.6% of a home’s energy consumption. 

New eco-friendly trends

The housing industry is currently undergoing major changes, with a shift in consumption habits towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. The DIY trend keeps growing, pushing consumers to choose homemade products, thus using less plastic. 

Businesses as well as individuals are increasingly looking into renewable energy, such as solar and wind, as well as energy efficient devices. Sustainable gestures, like switching off the lights when leaving a room, are becoming commonplace. 

In parallel, there is a growing trend towards more sustainable housing such as ecovillages, tiny houses and collective construction sites, which, with everyone’s help and a bit of DIY, becomes an environmentally friendly approach. Companies such as Neolife, a manufacturer of bio-based building materials, are driving this development, selecting environmentally friendly materials, reusing as much as it can and taking control over the decision-making process during construction. 

Consumers are feeding the need for new forms of housing. More and more people live in the outskirts of cities as they work remotely, allowing them to live further away from urban centers, at a lower cost, in a greener environment and on the coasts. This entails a necessity to redefine housing, as the house now also functions as a workplace. 

How are retailers in the home sector affected by changes in living spaces?

Remote working and changes in living spaces have led to a 14% increase in furniture sales in 2021, according to France Info, and the European furniture market is expected to grow by about 5.1% each year by 2026. In response to these changes, home retailers must adapt their offers to become sustainable while also improving customer experience. Therefore, it is necessary to communicate clearly about:  

  • the origin, 
  • manufacturing,  
  • and certification or labels of the products. 

Distribution methods are also evolving, with physical stores providing a more immersive and personalized experience, and e-commerce sites offering customization options or 3D visualizations. Click-and-collect options save time while reducing carbon emissions caused by shopping in different outlets. 

Challenges for housing retailers include the need to find sustainable suppliers and educate customers about the benefits of durable products. They also need to find the right balance between sustainability and cost, in order to offer sustainable products at affordable prices. Financial support such as Ma Prime Renov’ in France or European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+) in Europe allow housing retailers to guide buyers throughout their sustainable property project. 

An integrated approach is needed to simplify administrative processes, such as the integrated housing procedure (PIL) in France. It is also necessary to find the right persons to talk to at different levels (local, regional, national) and to take into account the financial and technological constraints there are regarding sustainable housing. In Germain Hot’s opinion, “the solution lies in training builders about environmental constraints and in intelligent urban renovation”. Innovation is key, for instance with technologies like motion and presence sensors and taking advantage of the heat produced by servers, as proposed by the French company Qarnot. 

Regarding the various issues and challenges of sustainable housing, players of the housing sector like retailers and manufacturers need to adapt by offering sustainable, transparent and innovative solutions. 

The future of sustainable housing lies in technological progress, new construction methods and the collaboration between the different players. Public policies and training courses also have to evolve in order to support the development of appropriate skills and to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices throughout the housing sector.