A number of so-called sustainable housing projects have been or are planned these years in Denmark. Some projects have also been constructed and are in use. The aspects of sustainability which are in focus vary, but energy consumption in the house during use and resource consumption and environmental impacts related to construction materials during manufacturing, construction and/or use are often in focus.
A research project focusing on the experiences from such recent Danish projects is conducted by Department of Management Engineering at Technical University of Denmark and the National Building Research Institute at Aalborg University 2007-2009. Six sustainable housing projects are analyzed in order to develop an understanding of the mechanisms in planning and use of such housing projects and develop proposals for future research, innovation, and diffusion within the field. The project addresses the following topics in the analyses of the case studies:
· What type of actors are initiating this kind of housing projects and why?
· What type of actors and entities are involved in the planning of the houses and which interactions takes place between the different types of actors and entities and between different types of competencies? How much are these relations building on existing business relations and how much are the relations set up for the specific planning processes?
· What role has standards played in the planning of the houses?
· What issues in relation to resource consumption and environmental impact have been addressed? What strategies were developed for these issues?
The case studies of housing projects represent a variety in relation to a) the present stage (planning, construction, use) and b) different ways of organizing the planning process, especially with respect to the role of municipalities, future occupants and environmental intermediaries. All analyzed projects are based on one-family houses or semi-detached houses.
Each case study comprises of interviews with some of the involved actors and collection and analyses of different types of written materials. The project includes furthermore an analysis across the different cases and development of proposals for future research, innovation, diffusion within the field.
The research project is based on theories within the approach of social shaping of technology (SST), which implies that each sustainable housing project is seen as part of an ongoing interaction between environmental discourses and environmental strategies, the dynamics of the construction sector, the dynamics of municipalities and the dynamics of living conditions. Within the SST-approach an actor-network approach is applied with focus on the development of scripts for a housing project, including the role of boundary objects and brokers, and product chains. The project has identified a number of different initiators to new sustainable housing projects:
- municipal administrative staff in order to influence future construction of houses in the local area
- local green intermediary in order to make sustainable houses which may attract ordinary citizens
- building component company in order to initiate development of new building concepts
- co-operative housing association to support development of more sustainable housing concepts
The different initiators have tried to enroll other stakeholders in their initiatives and establish housing projects. The municipal administrative staff and the local green intermediary were able to enroll the city councils and also enroll construction companies, which wanted to construct house and citizens who wanted to buy houses. However, some projects have also experienced lack of enrollment of important stakeholders. Problems engaging either construction companies or citizens to some projects show the role of demand and supply within the housing area. Some projects have had problems finding citizens who were willing to buy a house in an area allocated for sustainable housing when the housing market suddenly had a surplus of houses for sale and in one project no construction companies were willing to accept the guidelines for a housing project, when a piece of land was put for sale with demands for the companies, which wanted to build on the land.
Different types of standards have influenced the shaping of the projects. The new Danish construction guidelines for new houses with stronger demands for the energy consumption and efficiency have influenced some projects. The new Nordic eco-labeling guidelines for family houses has been developed and tested as part of one of these case studies. Other types of standards that have played a role are local guidelines for housing projects and internal company standards for houses, which imply that a construction company prefers to convince existing suppliers to change their products than to include new suppliers in their supply chain. A concept that has influenced two of the projects is the so-called passive house concept, where houses are supposed to have rather low energy consumption. The strongest focus among sustainability aspects has been on energy consumption. Some cases have also focus on reduction of environmental risk from construction materials.
The projects represent different levels of innovation with respect to building technology. One company based on standardized houses wanted as little innovation as possible in order not to have to change suppliers and change their production equipment. One project involved foreign designers because they found Danish designers too traditional. These findings show the need for studies of the diffusion of sustainable housing technologies: whether and by which mechanisms such diffusion takes place.
The project findings show the need for detailed studies of the citizens' actual domestication of new sustainable houses, so-called design-in-use or description of the developed script for a housing project, in order to understand those processes by which technologies are made to work (or not work) and are given meaning by households through acquisition, placement, interpretation and integration. Achieving the predicted low energy consumption was difficult in a project where the houses had been in use for a period. Another project showed the attempts from the construction company to ensure the predicted low energy consumption by providing the instructions for use and maintenance, which are demanded as part of the Nordic eco-labeling criteria for one-family houses.