33.3 Climate and eco-adaptation in housing and construction -regional transition strategies

Jesper Holm , Enspac, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark
Inger Stauning , Enspac, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark
Bent Søndergård , Enspac, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark
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  • Aalborg 2009 Paper 6 .pdf (257.6 kB)
  • Climate and eco-adaptation in housing and construction – regional transition strategies

    Jesper Holm, Inger Stauning, Bent Søndergård, ENSPAC, RUC

    The paper examines in a Danish context the role of municipalities and regions in contributing to climate- and eco-transition of housing and construction, by examining recent programs and policies for transforming housing practices and technologies. It is based on studies of innovative projects and municipality practices/policies conducted in the research project KIBS (Klimatilpasset Innovation i Byggeriet i region Sjælland, [Climate adapted innovation in construction in Region Zeeland]) [1]

    Transition of housing and construction sectors plays a vital role in societies' adaptation to climate and ecological challenges. In Denmark, 40% of energy consumption is related to housing. This, combined with the fact that construction and retrofitting of buildings involves a substantial resource drain, high volume of waste and use of a high amount of chemicals, has since the 1970xs led to various efforts to redefine housing and construction technologies and practices.

    Progress, however, has been slow. For a decade the Danish construction industry has benefited from a booming construction market leaving few incentives to adopt new technologies and practices. The economic crisis and climate agenda changes this situation; low energy and passive houses and energy retrofitting of residential and public buildings are identified as new necessities and markets. Construction and housing is currently being enrolled into (national/EU) programs of climate adaptation, implying also a systemic perspective on housing and construction, where change of energy performance of houses is seen as a part of an overall transition to low carbon energy systems. With no Danish state-driven lead market efforts on sustainable construction and housing, municipalities and regional authorities are sought for as main actors in spurring a development path, and in the stipulated development they will be ascribed new roles and obligations to drive and support climate and eco-adaptation. On a national scale, we have experienced a wide array of municipality strategies and programs on climate and eco-adaptation of housing and construction, ranging from Local agenda 21 programs of public involvement, public-private partnerships and local climate/CO2 reduction programs.

    The analytic approach in the paper is a perception of construction and housing sector as socio-technical systems (Geels, Bergek/Jacobsson) where transition is understood as changes in technologies, actors, network and institutional frameworks, and as interplay of socio-technical regimes and socio-technical experiments and niches. The construction and housing sector in particular is characterised by high complexity; a transition to new technology paths involves a concurrent and distributed change of technologies, actors, competences and perceptions, both in relation to production chains and project processes. However, processes of transition can be seen as localised, taking place in specific local settings, which can be influenced and co-shaped by local/regional policies and programs. In the analysis, we look for how local policies, embedded in institutional frameworks and business sectors, shape local innovative housing and construction projects (socio-technical experimentation). We also want to know whether and how these projects and innovations are disseminated.   

    The analysis of projects and socio-technical experiments in Region Zeeland reveals a high differentiation in local approaches to the development of the local housing sector and construction, depending on perceptions of the challenges and on specific local conditions. Within the region there have been few cases of socio-technical experiments and project within construction, however, they have served as important showcases and situated learning. They have demonstrated on the one hand the feasibility of low energy dwellings, combining environmental and comfort demands, and on the other hand exposing potentials and limitations of institutional framework and instruments available to municipalities in their planning.

    Two types of projects/socio-technical experimentation can be identified where local municipalities play a role: those driven by social entrepreneurship (e.g. self constructors, eco-villages) and those driven by progressive institutional actors (municipalities, cooperative housing societies, …). In both cases, a main problem has been lack of diffusion, as the established housing sector and construction industry have related hesitant to innovations and knowledge from the projects. Adoption has taken place, but in processes of interpretation and selection only incremental changes within dominant technology paths and practices have occurred.

    The perceived radical redefinition of roles and opportunities of regions and municipalities is yet to materialise, as main picture is currently a continuation of a market based approach leaving few new options for municipalities (and other institutional actors, such as cooperative housing societies) to shape and support a transition of the housing sector and construction industry. Opposed to this approach, a transition perspective is asserted. Based on the analyses of experiences of projects/socio-technical experimentations and the range of municipality strategies and programs and based on the understanding of transition processes, the final part of the paper discusses how a transition program can be outlines and how local programs and policies of regions and municipalities may shape and support local transition.

    The structure of the paper:

    ·                     Setting the Danish stage. Short presentation of the development of the Danish construction industry and housing sector in relation to challenges of climate/energy and environment. Focus is on policies and regulation implemented to support energy and eco-innovation in housing and construction, and in particular on the development of institutional frameworks and instruments available to municipalities and regions

    ·                     The theoretical framework – how can we understand the role of local actors in transition of socio-technical systems?

    ·                     Analysis of local projects and socio-technical experimentations within the Danish construction and housing sector. The projects are analysed with the perspective to examine the interplay of the projects with practices and policies of municipalities and with the existing institutional framework and production structure. The aim is to identify options and best practices and to identify structural and institutional barriers.

    ·                     Discussion of regional and local strategies and programs in a transition perspective; how can regions and municipalities shape and support transition of local housing sector and construction industry. 

    [1] The project was funded 2007/8 by Region Zeeland. The project was a co-operation with partners from The Danish Building Research Institute, Technical University of Denmark and Danish technological Institute.