It is not difficult to design low energy, low emission and low cost housing. Solutions have existed for many years. Why are they not spreading? The difficulty is to deliver them, in the real world. There are many barriers, often cultural and institutional. Delivery – not technological innovation – is the real challenge.
There is growing awareness – with research findings to support it – that the typical technological focus in sustainable building research and policy is insufficient and even misleading. The performance in real life of low energy buildings is very often far less than what was calculated in theory. Reasons for this are human error, inefficient management, incorrect installation and above all poor user awareness and behaviour. Similarly, key reasons why innovations spread so slowly – even when cheap – include human inertia, weak communication, poorly designed incentives and policies, as well as consumer fashions in the opposite direction of unsustainable consumption. These “soft” barriers are culturally specific.
What policy instruments, legislative, economic and cultural, work in different countries? At what stage is a country “ready” for strict energy standards? What can be learned from regions where energy efficiency has been successfully introduced and spread? What are the drivers and the dynamics of change towards sustainability? The ELITH program has highlighted the following areas:
- Creating Energy Efficiency Codes for Thailand Residential Buildings
- Debating Acceptable Thermal Comfort for Low Income Housing
- The Dynamics of Change: How did the Passivhaus Movement Succeed So Quickly?
- Trends, Perceptions and Sustainable Alternatives in East African Housing
- ELITH Activities in Education and Training for Sustainable Design and Construction
- Vernacular solutions in the hot-humid contexts of China and Thailand.
A key conclusion from ELITH is the need for far more focus on processes and the dynamics of change. The challenge for sustainable building and cities – a challenge in which energy and climate considerations form only one part – is one of delivery, not of technology. This conclusion appears to be broadly shared by many agencies such as the World Bank now. On the contrary, however, the prime focus of much research and funding continues to be on technological innovation.