At JTC many of our clients have an interest in real estate and sustainability is increasingly becoming an important issue. We have recently launched a range of ESG services to help clients to make a positive impact, and we are learning from others how else JTC and our clients can make a difference.
With this in mind, we spoke to Tom Carr, co-founder of Verto Homes, the UK’s leading sustainable housebuilder, to ask what the future of real estate will look like.
Have you seen increased interest from investors in sustainable housing?
The Climate Emergency has never been more real. With the effects of climate change in headline news on a daily basis, it is clear that we must act now – across all walks of life. Supporting businesses that are actively looking to address the Climate Emergency is certainly one way to do so.
In the housing sector, there is the added benefit of underlying operations in which investment is placed being supported by bricks and mortar, with the housing market going from strength to strength. Since our inception, investors have always been proud to be contributing to a sustainable cause, and this too is prominent now more than ever. It is clear that investors are increasingly seeking to place their funds in more sustainable, responsible and ethically conscious businesses.
You were recently invited to present at the Cornwall Sustainability Conference ahead of the G7 Summit. What were your main messages?
Our Masterclass Presentation at the Cornwall Sustainability Conference brought together the two issues closest to our heart: the Climate Emergency and the Housing Crisis. Our key message was that these must be considered in tandem. Not only are we already seeing the effects of climate change, but there is an ever apparent housing crisis in the lack of suitable homes available for so many.
The homes being built today must be suitable for future generations. Not only are there too few available, new houses being built by many other housebuilders are far from sustainable. Looking at other industries over the last decade since Verto began in 2010, there has been a monumental shift towards more sustainable practices. And yet homes – the single biggest investment most people make in their lives – have seen almost no change.
Since we started Verto, the average EPC rating of new homes in the UK has remained static. According to the ONS, the average home produces 4 tonnes of CO2 each year, and with 29 million homes in the UK, this means nearly a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions come from buildings.
The government has announced plans to build 345,000 homes every year just to make sure everybody has somewhere to live. But if we build unsustainable housing at this rate, we are solving one challenge by deepening another. There’s only one way to solve both at the same time, and that’s to start building truly sustainable housing on a widespread scale.
At Verto, we’ve demonstrated that it works. Both environmentally and at scale. But for us to take the next step, we need other stakeholders to contribute further.
We need councils and planning officers to challenge the sustainability of proposed developments much harder. We need landowners to partner with us so we can achieve the scale of building required. We need financiers to recognise sustainable businesses favourably. And we need policymakers and regulators to drive change right across the industry.
Do you think we will begin to see more older properties being renovated with sustainability in mind?
All aspects of construction will certainly need to have sustainability as a cornerstone of its design going forward, whether that be brand new Zero Carbon Smart HomesⓇ or the renovation and retrofitting of older, more historic properties.
While improving the sustainability of older properties can prove challenging, there are still some easy wins that can be done when renovating, such as adding photovoltaic panels to the roof, adding in more insulation and efficient heating systems, whilst still keeping the historic look and feel of the building where relevant.
With materials and products constantly evolving there are always new solutions and methods to help older buildings work better. Demolishing existing homes and replacing them with brand new highly efficient ones is often seen as a positive step, but the amount of carbon embodied in demolition and construction is significant, so the need to improve existing housing is certainly a key solution.
What do you think the future of residential real estate will look like?
It is likely that more and more house builders will gradually move away from traditional building methods and move towards offsite construction, utilising pre-made panels and modular techniques. These methods, while fairly early in their development, will offer improvement in the speed of build, but also more control over insulation and air tightness, meaning higher levels of sustainability and ultimately lower running costs for the user. The use of technology in homes and properties is also likely to increase to monitor energy usage and how the home is being used to ensure it is running as efficiently as possible.
The speed that this happens though is ultimately down to national policy setters – unless the requirements to meet higher levels of sustainability are brought in and enforced, it is likely that the majority of builders will not adopt sustainable methods until they have to. It really is in the control of the Government to determine how quickly the real estate sector evolves. We are seeing more and more ‘green-wash’ whereby businesses are using marketing tactics to appear sustainable, when the underlying credentials are largely indifferent to how they had been before.
Home buyers and renters also have a key role to play, with the Climate Emergency gaining more and more traction, and people realising they need to be doing something at ground level, the demand for zero carbon housing will increase with buyers realising their home and car are the two biggest things that can change in their life to reduce their carbon footprint. This will only put pressure on housebuilders to meet the demands of buyers and build to the required specification. At Verto more and more of our buyers have sustainability at the top of their want list when buying a home, above location and other factors which are commonly considered. And we are forever advancing our sustainability credentials through research and development, to the point that we’re now seeing our homes become carbon negative.
Verto designs, builds and sells Zero Carbon Smart Home® in the Southwest, putting people and the planet at the centre of its approach. From prime residential through to midmarket and affordable homes and PBSA, Verto is setting the standard for zero carbon property.
Formed 10 years ago, Verto has been built from the ground up, driven by a desire to make the places where we live better for our health and for the planet. Verto has consistently been recognised as the leading developer of zero carbon smart homes, with its properties receiving national and international acclaim.At the heart of each Verto home is the principle that energy is created sustainably and consumed efficiently. What’s more, with smart technology, the owner has complete control over when and how the energy is used.
Verto continues to set the standards for sustainable homes. Whether the team is acting as housebuilder, contractor or consultant, Verto is committed to delivering sustainable communities now and in the future. https://vertohomes.com