The Big Picture – the global impact of housing

The Big Picture – the global impact of housing

When building a new home, many clients come to us because they’re looking for an energy efficient sustainable home. Their resolve often drivenby wider concerns abouttheir carbon footprint and impact on the environment. On a micro scale reducing the energy demands of a home resultin financial benefits for the occupants; on a macro-scale, it assists in carbon dioxide reductions with minimal use of fossil fuels. 

The housing industry is one of the largest contributors to energy consumption accounting for an estimated 40% of global energy use (UNEP, 2018).  When you consider the energy required to build a house; from the extraction of the raw materials, freight, manufacture, construction through to the energy use during the life of the home, it’s no wonder the built environment has such a global impact on climate change.

But, the consequences don’t just end there. The world is interconnected and the outcomes of our actions and choices are far-reaching.

1 billion people in the world are currently living in extremepovertywithout a home (Sachs, 2015).   Green buildings can impact climate change. Is it also possible that the ultimate reward for sustainable housing is reducing global poverty?

History of Sustainable Development

Since the 1970s the core idea of limits to growth began making waves with increased awareness of the scale of impact of finite mineral resources. However, it took a further decade of environmental degradation before the real costs to development came to light and from which emerged the notion of sustainable development.

Sustainable development was first defined 30 years ago in the renowned BruntlandReport, as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Assumptions that western society could continue on the same economic growth path began to be questioned. To measure the impact on the environment a new framework emerged. Commonly referred to as the 3 Ps; People, Planet and Property, it connects economic development with the environment and social equity.  This framework now forms the basis of the Sustainable Development Goals, a global framework of 17 goals set by the United Nations.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

How does this relate to housing and the building industry?

The SDGs is a set of 17 goals with the overarching goal to eradicate global poverty by 2030.  Of the 17 goalsthe housing industry has a direct impact on 7 goals.

The housing industry is a major factor in achieving the SDGs, as summarised in the following points (*Sustainable Development Framework, 2018);

Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation

More than 2 billion people globally lack access to clean water, reducing our own water consumption impacts wateravailability for all

Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy

The goal is for 80% of global energy to be renewable, the housing industry is a major player in this area and is therefore pivotal to achieving this goal

Goal 9 Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure

Innovation and the creation of new and more sustainable industries are spurred by investments in research and development, public demand for sustainable industries will see this goal achieved

Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities

Urbanisation has resulted in 54% of the world’s population living in cities, sustainable communities are needed to ensure safe and resilient places for people to live

Goal 12 Responsible Consumption and Production

Minimising material production and waste is pivotal to sustainable development, the construction of a house requires a large amount of consumption and production, therefore weighing up the embodied energy of materials against the passive solar gains is essential

Goal 13 Climate Action

The primary threat to development is climate change, therefore it is vital measures are taken to minimise a homes’ energy use from all phases of construction – from site selection through to waste minimisation on site

Goal 15 Life on Land

Preserving the ecosystem is also crucial to protect biodiversity, therefore making decisions early on to minimise clearing of blocks and retaining existing vegetation will have greater a positive impact

The decisions we make as builders and home owners can have a huge global impact, and effect great strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  Every decision made, from the selection of building materials and housing design,to the processes on site and after handover to minimise waste and consumption may seem insignificant.  However, every home demands the use of resources and energy use.  Making informed decisions from the initial design phase between all stakeholders involved in the build will result in major impacts globally.

The added bonus, a healthy sustainable home that works with the environment rather than trying to fragment it.



*Data taken from the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Framework

Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. (2018). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

Sachs, Jeffrey author. (2015). The age of sustainable development. New York :Columbia University Press

United Nations Environment Program. (2018). Sustainable Buildings.