Retrofitting suburbs for sustainability
In the Sustainable Järva project, buildings from Sweden's Million Programme are being environmentally renovated with the goal of creating a transferable standard. At present there are also ideas for a comprehensive environmental project for all of Europe's suburbs built in the 1960s and 70s, home to over 200 million people. It could be financed with Energy Performance Contracts, would create millions of jobs, and reduce carbon emissions substantially.



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Sustainable Järva

The Sustainable Järva project was aimed at creating a model for sustainable renovations in the Million Programme areas as well as international equivalents. Stockholm-owned real estate company Svenska Bostäder tested two different methods – traditional renovation, versus the use of prefabricated façade elements – on six buildings (350 apartments) of the three most prevalent types of residential apartment blocks.

The goal was to halve energy consumption, install local renewable energy sources, and improve indoor environments. In Järva solar PVs and solar water heaters were incorporated into the balcony railings, façades, and roofs, a local wind turbine will be built, and the area was connected to the district heating system. Green transport was promoted through an extensive network of bicycle paths, bike rentals, and a local car-pooling service. Other elements included the development of Järvafältet, a large greenspace, information and consultation with residents, as well as cultural investments.

Green financing

In many such urban areas it is difficult to finance renovations, because tenants cannot afford them. One idea that has arisen is to allow future energy savings to finance the renovations. Green loans have already been introduced for small houses and condominiums. These are known as Pay As You Save loans in the UK, Energy Efficient Mortgages in the US, and Energy Performance Contracts in Germany. The borrowers pay off their renovation loans as energy efficiency decreases expenses. The success of these methods of financing seems to depend on how much the authorities involve themselves with policies and additional financial support.

Total Community Retrofit

One financing idea for very large suburban areas was developed by British engineer Peter Head. Previously a director at the global engineering firm Arup, two years ago Head started up London-based consulting firm Institute for Sustainability in the Thames Gateway. Its overarching project, Total Community Retrofit, is more comprehensive than Sustainable Järva and includes work on energy-efficient buildings, sustainable infrastructure, and green transportation and logistics. The idea is that the tenants sign a contract to pay as much for electricity, water, waste collection and other resources, for the next 10-20 years, as they do today. Massive renovations and reorganisations are then carried out that will reduce resource expenditure by 80%. With such a system in place it becomes possible to attract pension funds and other major financial investors. In addition to energy-efficient transformation of the infrastructure, reconstructions can include: local renewable energy sources; carpooling with electric vehicles; development of greenspace; local food production; and residents' education that may lead to the creation of jobs within the project.

Educational programmes

The Institute for Sustainability has planned three major UK demonstration projects (approximately 30,000 dwellings), in urban, suburban, and rural areas, to begin in 2015. In preparation for these the Institute is participating in an ongoing renovation project in Swale, in southeast England, and has launched FLASH, an extensive educational programme in environmental engineering for construction and renovation for up to 1,200 small and medium-sized English companies.

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Nick Pennell, Sartaz Ahmed, Stefan Henningsson, "Reinventing the City to Combat Climate Change", strategy+business magazine, Issue 60, Autumn 2010, Booz & Company, http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10303?gko=f419a

UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC, 2008, Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, Worldwatch Institute, september 2008, http://www.unep.org/labour_environment/PDFs/Greenjobs/UNEP-Green-Jobs-Report.pdf

City of Stockholm, “Hållbara Järva!”, http://www.stockholm.se/hallbarajarva

Anna Roxvall, "Ny energi för slitna bostäder", Svenska Dagbladet, August 27 2010, http://www.svd.se/naringsliv/ny-energi-for-slitna-bostader_5204397.svd

Tällberg Foundation, ”'Miljonprogrammet' – A makeover of Sweden’s municipal housing”, Summary of report to the Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs, Jan 2011, http://www.tallbergfoundation.org/Portals/0/Documents/Rapport_Miljonprogr%20%28eng%29.pdf

Institute for Sustainability, Total Community Retrofit, http://www.instituteforsustainability.co.uk/tcr.html

Clinton Climate Initiative and C40 Cities, "RE:FIT Initiative, London, UK: Building Retrofit Case Study", 2011, http://c40citieslive.squarespace.com/storage/REFIT%20CaseStudy%20FINAL%20August%2017.pdf

Energy Saving Trust, http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Take-action

Mike Gray, “Improve Your Home – and Save Taxes – with a 'Green Mortgage'”, Blue Planet Green Living, January 27 2011, http://www.blueplanetgreenliving.com/2011/01/27/improve-your-home-and-save-taxes-with-a-green-mortgage/

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/unup/index_panel2.html
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Text by: Martin Jacobson
Last edited: 2017-03-15