The term sustainability is increasingly being used to describe positive and negative actions and behaviour of Australians for their use of energy.
An important role in sustainability is played by housing, where, while considerations of energy use are important, issues of sustainability also include cost (affordability) and time (productivity).
Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations as, “development which meets present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
In particular this opinion seeks to address sustainability of housing in Australia, or rather its characteristics of unsustainability.
I was reminded recently by an expert who assesses energy use in buildings that housing does not use energy, it is the occupants who need to accept responsibility. However, there are also important issues for how houses are produced.
The part played by housing production is critical for sustainability.
Research has found that buildings account for 32 per cent of total global energy use, of which residential use accounts for three quarters.
A Human Settlements report in 2001 found that while the population increased in Australia between 1975 and 2001 by 35 per cent, the use of energy by the residential sector increased by 60 per cent.
Further, buildings produce 35 per cent of greenhouse gases in the world; housing’s share of that is over 50 per cent. There is clear evidence that current construction methods are unable to mitigate these poor outcomes without innovation and change.
Building construction alone generates up to 30 per cent of all wastes sent to land fill.
Typically up to 30 per cent of labour and materials for housing construction is wasted through reworking or changes during the works.
Unfortunately, constraints for the average suburban house site prevent the waste from construction being separated into streams for recovery and recycling.
It is clear that the cost of construction continues to rise, and worse, there is a high level of uncertainty as to the final cost, often higher than initial budgets.
This is a serious situation for housing demonstrated by a measure of housing affordability, that being average cost compared with average wage. In 1990 the ratio for average housing purchase price compared to average gross income was 3 to 1, in 2015 it was 5 to 1.
In a recent report, the cost of housing placed Australia sixth behind UK, Switzerland, Denmark, Hong Kong and Sweden. There are reasons why this unacceptable situation cannot change, a shortage of skilled trades is one of them, and reluctance by industry and consumers to consider non-traditional production of housing is another. Industries supplying, for example, cars and clothing have changed from a craft to a manufacturing industry thereby producing products which are readily available with a range of affordability.
There is an opportunity for the community to view examples of sustainable houses through the Alternative Technology Association’s open house day which is on Sunday 11th September. This event is held in partnership with the Department of the Environment and Energy and you must register by using http://sustainablehouseday.com/subscriber-registration/