A revolutionary housing system for a sustainable future

Posted on 01 October 2000
London, UK: BioRegional, a London-based non-governmental organization whose aim is to bring sustainability into daily living, needed a new office. They wanted something that would offer a better quality of life and, at the same time, minimize environmental impact. From this simple initial idea grew ZED (Zero Energy Development), a model housing project that tied in perfectly with other BioRegional.

It is the biggest project of this kind in the UK - and one of the biggest in Europe. Building started a few months ago, and the whole complex - 80 residential units and 20 workshops - should be completed by September 2001.

Imagine a village in the middle of the London Borough of Sutton where everything will be planned with energy and water efficiency in mind. The low-energy buildings will be constructed using renewable resources and minimizing waste, the homes will have terraces and gardens on their roofs, and be surrounded by a working parkland landscape that features commercial lavender fields and an ecological reserve. Wherever possible only local materials will be used, and all timber will be certified under the principles and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - the leading forest certification scheme worldwide.

"We worked on a package that could be interesting for developers, and presented it to several of them," explains Pooran Desai, one of BioRegional's founders. "We also presented this project to the Peabody Trust, London's largest housing association, which has committed 15 million dollars towards the construction." The first action of the Peabody Trust/BioRegional team was to buy the land from the Borough of Sutton in a sale where, for the first time, this far-sighted local authority favoured the greatest environmental benefit over the greatest profit.

Charged with carrying out the project are Bill Dunster Architects and Ove Arup and Partners, consulting engineers.

Every aspect of the scheme has been developed to be environmentally sound. The houses will use the best available insulation and energy conservation technologies, and the system is designed to generate heating from day-to-day activities such as cooking. The kitchens will be equipped with the latest in energy-saving appliances: water saving washing machines, dishwashers and toilets will keep water consumption to a minimum. In addition, rainwater will be collected to irrigate the roof gardens and "greywater" from baths and sinks will be recycled to reduce dependence on treated mains water.

The energy-efficient measures will result in significant savings on the residents' electricity bills, as the heating requirements of the ZED homes will be reduced to some 10 per cent of those of a similarly-sized home.

"This exciting, innovative development is a first for the UK. It provides low-cost solutions to many sustainability questions and will spearhead a revolution in the housing industry," says Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, Head of WWF International's Forests for Life Programme, which has been supporting BioRegional's work for more than seven years. "If we are serious about maintaining a healthy planet, we have to start putting theory into practice."

Outside the homes and workplaces, the design of the project aims to reduce traffic pollution, and the consumption of fossil fuels, mainly by helping residents decrease their need for car journeys. Opportunities to work on site will be offered, with workspaces and homes equipped with hi-tech telecommunication facilities. There will be a grocery, stocking everyday items as well as fresh organic products, and discussions with a major supermarket chain may result in a direct weekly delivery of groceries.

Other convenient facilities include a 'Healthy Living Centre', linked to a doctor's surgery close to the housing complex.

To reassure those who still need a car, residents and workers will have access to a car pool which will included electric cars charged with renewable energy generated on-site. At the same time, discounts are being negotiated with public transport.

"The ZED system is designed to make it easy for its residents to adopt environmentally-friendly lifestyles," concludes Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud. "It is definitely a superb example of how we can improve the quality of life while at the same time reduce consumption."

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* Olivier van Bogaert is Press Officer at WWF International, in Gland, Switzerland.