So, what are you going to do about it?!

Last month, I made the case for the social care sector to up its game on sustainability.  To which one reader – fairly, if a little assertively! – challenged me to say what the sector actually needed to do!  So, here’s my starting suggestion.

Research published in 2021 by the National Housing Federation highlighted that England’s homes produce more carbon emissions every year than is produced by all of the country’s cars.  England’s 25 million homes produce 58.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year, compared to the 27 million cars in use in England, emitting 56 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

There are some 17,500 care homes in the UK, providing a home to over 400,000 people; 70% of these are residential settings.  In the UK, the Government estimates that the average residential property contributes 6 tonnes of carbon every year.  So, that would suggest that care homes are contributing something like 105,000 tonnes of carbon every year.  But that is almost definitely a very significant under-estimate.  The UK’s first carbon-neutral care home – Luxurycare Group’s Eagles Mount care home in Poole – calculated that its annual carbon impact amounted to 163 tonnes/year.  If this figure were replicated for all care homes, we would be looking at an annual total carbon impact of the UK’s residential care homes of more like 2.8 million tonnes.  

In the UK, we know that the average residential property has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating – and, thus, environmental impact rating – of D.  In private rented accommodation, 60% of properties have an EPC rating of D or lower; staggeringly, this accounts for 77% of all CO2 emissions in homes across England and Wales.  The Government wants all non-domestic rented buildings to meet a minimum EPC rating of B by 2030, with the expectation that an EPC rating of C will be the minimum by 2025. 

All of this probably means that some 60% of residential care homes – 10,500 properties – will need to improve their energy efficiency by at least one EPC level over the next few years.

It is estimated that each EPC grade climbed represents around a 30–40% reduction in CO2 emissions per year.  So, the potential reduction in carbon emissions of bringing all residential care homes up to an EPC rating could be truly significant – perhaps as much as a reduction of over 500,000 tonnes of carbon!

But isn’t this all terribly expensive?  Well, surprisingly, not really.  The average cost of remedial action to take a residential property from a D rating to a C rating is estimated as £5,500.  Even for larger properties, the average is estimated at approximately £12,000.  And the payback is becoming increasingly significant.  Property experts Knight Frank estimate that energy cost savings from moving from a D to a C rated property could save nearly £400 per year.  And the value of a home which moves from a D to a C rating adds an additional 3% to their value over and above local house price growth, equivalent to some £9,000 based on average resale value.

The most common energy efficiency improvements you can make require relatively modest investment.  Things like low impact lighting, draught proofing, improved insulation, replacement windows, better heating controls.  Or just adding some draught excluders, turning lights out in empty rooms, and other small but important changes.  More expensive – but often of much greater impact – improvements like installing solar power and heat pumps are becoming increasingly common.  And with energy costs having spiralled, and unlikely to reduce any time soon, the case for these investments has never been greater.

I would also highly recommend involving your teams in this agenda and asking them how they think improvements can be made; they usually know what’s happening at a local level best and are normally be as keen as anyone to play their part on the sustainability agenda. 

Energy efficiency and sustainability really is a win-win scenario.  For most care homes, relatively modest financial investment can dramatically reduce the property’s carbon footprint and save energy costs at the same time.  And that’s good for business and the planet!

That’s my starter for ten!  I’ll cover other areas in future columns – and would love to hear from others of how you are tackling this agenda.

First published in Caring Times