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Greener Together

Greener Together CCH Conference Briefing

The CCH Annual Conference held in Birmingham from 16-18 July 2010 was a major milestone in the Greener Together project and was of great value to all those in the housing co-op movement with an interest in greener living.

The Greener Together project, delivered by the CCH in partnership with Co-operatives UK and Plunkett Foundation, aims to encourage members of co-ops to live greener lifestyles by adopting pro-environmental behaviours. Ten housing co-ops, TMOs and co-housing schemes are taking part in the project, which is funded by Defra, alongside retail co-ops, worker co-ops and community-owned shops.

A number of points were learned from the conference about co-ops and greener living:

All co-op members are not the same!

Within the co-op movement there is a wide diversity of organisations with different track records on environmental issues. Some co-ops consider themselves to be very 'green', they may have installed lots of insulation and even renewable energy. Other co-ops would like to be greener but haven't done much yet. This doesn't matter - it's not a question of creating an elite club of green co-ops with futuristic eco-homes while making others feel excluded. Any co-op, of any kind, can do something.

Similarly, within co-ops, members have different levels and types of motivation for greener living - what we call the 'psychology of environmental behaviour'. Defra has developed a 'framework for pro-environmental behaviour' (one of the last government’s more useful achievements - check it out before the Coalition deletes it ...) that includes a set of 'behaviour goals', a customer insight and evidence base, and an environmental segmentation model that includes seven clusters. Housing co-ops are no different to wider society in that our members will fall into all seven clusters, from 'positive greens' to 'honestly disengaged' and everything in between.

Where co-ops differ from wider society, is our networks of social capital that make it possible for people to be engaged through a trusted source. Our Greener Together project is helping to refine the evidence base that Defra has put together, and therefore will be of great value in the future.

Think outside the fabric of the building

As housing providers we often think of things in bricks and mortar terms. Every co-op should be thinking of ways we can improve the energy performance of our homes, and the wider environmental impact of our housing management activities.

The CCH Accreditation Framework helps you to do this. But don't forget that it is people who live in buildings, and it's people who make decisions about whether to turn the heating or lighting on, or whether to use plastic bags and chuck waste into the bin. As organisations who are about community as well as buildings, we are in a unique position to make a difference where buildings and people interact.

Behaviour change makes a real difference, and simple measures can often save as much carbon dioxide (and £s) as expensive technological fixes. Behaviour change can be very challenging - but our involvement in the Greener Together project is a testament to the ability of co-ops to be pioneers, once again, in this greatest of challenges. Housing co-ops are good at capacity building - Greener Together is creating a legacy in the movement of low-carbon community leaders. Every housing co-op can do this.

Make it fun and interesting

We all know that involvement in housing co-ops can sometimes involve lots of dull meetings so we always try to liven it up by introducing some fun into the proceedings. Action on climate change should be no different, but sometimes the ABC of community engagement gets left behind. Just google 'climate change fun activities' for some ideas about what you could do. Also, don't forget to link it in to other initiatives. So if you're already having a fun day or a seaside trip, why not build a climate change theme into it, as a way of leading into the project?

Fuel poverty and retrofitting

Charlie Baker led a workshop based on his experience of retrofitting his own home and designing retrofit projects. The conclusions were that by focussing on reducing the need for heat and power in a home, with high levels of air tightness and insulation, it is possible to achieve 60% plus cuts in household emissions and achieve affordable fuel bills, and the cost of doing this can be kept to reasonable levels.

Phil Beardmore's workshop looked at possible ways of funding whole-house retrofits. Feed-in tariffs and pay-as-you-save represent the future as grant schemes come to an end. There is a need for the housing co-operative sector to put together schemes that are practical and accessible for housing co-ops. The Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing is looking at this possibility as part of its review of funding housing co-ops. There was support at the conference for the idea of CCH developing a bespoke advice and consultancy service for co-ops.

Finally, thanks to Michelle Lockwood (Co-ops UK), Charlie Baker (Urbed), Bryony Vickers (Argyle St Housing Co-op) and Phil Beardmore (Balsall Heath Housing Co-op) for their inputs at the conference and to everyone who contributed to the sessions on Greener Together.