What’s holding us back?

Why aren’t we desperate to build sustainably? What’s holding us back?

These are rhetorical questions of course, as it seems quite apparent that the answer is money. Building sustainably costs more… or at least that’s what the received wisdom seems to tell us. Is this an accurate summation and, perhaps more crucially, is it a relevant factor? I’m at the very beginning of my journey of eco-activism so I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I’m prepared to speculate now and be proven wrong further down the line.

There are plenty of incentives out there designed to reduce the cost of sustainable features, but it’s a complex and ever-changing field of feed-in tariffs, government schemes, payback periods, lifecycle costs, etc. We’re bombarded with incentives and statistics, but they’re littered with loopholes and uncertainty. They also lack a holistic umbrella that holds them all together and removes the infuriating contradictions. Considering this complex arena, I can understand why very few people have embraced sustainable construction.

There’s talk of raising the energy standards laid out in the Building Regulations. This would force people to design and build more sustainably, which may be what it takes to make a real difference to our carbon footprint. Rather cynically though, I can’t help but feel that overhauling the Building Regulations would end up as a half-baked and compromised solution. Furthermore, with the government’s U-turn approach to policy making, I don’t think it’s a solution we can rely upon. Something else needs to change and I think it’s our aspirations.

What is it that we take pride in about our homes? Is it the contemporary, fully glazed extension? Or the new kitchen with a double-fronted fridge-freezer? Or even the all-singing, all-dancing rain shower? Ok… I’m being cynical again, but the point I’m trying to make is that it tends to be the things we see rather than the things we feel. We should be taking pride in declaring that it hasn’t been necessary to turn the heating on all winter or that the allergen levels within the home are virtually undetectable. Aren’t these things to aspire to? And if achieving these invisible gems means compromising on the visible commodities, isn’t it worth it?

As the aspirations of the consumer shift in this direction, the affordability of sustainable architecture will improve. It will take some trailblazers with a few leaps of faith to make this happen, but we all need to follow in their footsteps to make it a success. At this point I haven’t even touched on the simple fact that energy prices are only going to rise; if the ethical arguments are not convincing, surely the rising cost of our dwindling resources is reason enough to blaze some trails in eco-architecture. If it has the knock-on effect of creating a more pleasant home to live in, so be it.

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