A survey has shown that the UK’s largest housebuilders are just not taking sustainability seriously. Bar two strong performers, most show little environmental responsibility unless they’re forced to
Housebuilders are not building enough green homes. That was the conclusion of a sustainability survey commissioned by environment campaigner WWF and Insight Investment. Although the report said that some housebuilders were starting to realise the business benefits of being sustainable, it concluded that “most companies still lag behind best practice”.

The survey looked at the environmental performance of 13 of the UK’s largest housebuilders and found that most were found wanting in areas such as energy efficiency in the home and providing waste separation facilities for residents. Of the sustainability issues, short-term environmental issues such as dealing with on-site construction waste were most likely to be addressed. For many of the housebuilders, sustainable measures were only taken when required by planning.

The survey lamented that housebuilders had yet to take responsibility for long-term environmental impacts and were slow to demonstrate innovation in development and house designs that might encourage residents to behave in a more sustainable manner.

Housebuilders were also criticised for not doing enough to contribute to the communities in which they are built. On average they ranked poorly in terms of considerate construction, creating employment and building sustainable communities. The survey also found that housebuilders had a tendency not to regard health and safety as a sustainability issue.

On the upside, the survey did unearth a couple of star performers. Countryside Properties and the Berkeley Group were both praised for integrating sustainability into their mainstream business practices. Berkeley scored 70-80 out of a possible 100, while Countryside were given 90-100%.

The Energy Saving Trust welcomed steps taken by Countryside and Berkeley and urged other companies to follow suit. “While the survey shows that the minority of housebuilders have their finger on the pulse, we are still a long way from ensuring that the whole industry builds homes to energy efficient standards,” said Phillip Sellwood, chief executive of the EST.

Sellwood believes that market forces should make housebuilders take a more sustainable approach to building. “We already know that people would prefer their homes to be environmentally friendly and that 40% of people are willing to pay more to help their home mend its energy criminal ways. They realise the cost savings available through the introduction of energy efficient measures.”

The survey measured the housebuilders’ impact on the environment and society, as well as their governance strategies and risk management. The scores were based on publicly available information and follow-up meetings with WWF and Insight, with the exception of Wilson Bowden. Its final score would have been affected as a result.