In 1896 a handful of scientists identified the possibility that humanity could change the climate. However, it wasn’t until nearly 100 years later (and before greenwashing was even a word) that a consensus started to form and the World Meteorological Organisation established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Fierce disagreements continued long after this, with often entirely spurious arguments used to reject the claims of scientists. Today, although there are still powerful lobbyists and other groups dedicated to denying the evidence of climate change, we can finally say that the reality of this existential threat to humanity has now lodged itself securely in the public consciousness.
The debate now is not about ‘whether’ but ‘what to do’ and for the PRS the question is whether landlords are leading the sector or just greenwashing the issue?
Contributing to the solution
The long-held belief that it was only governments that could take the bold steps needed to protect the environment has been superseded by a growing awareness that every individual can make a worthwhile contribution.
Initiatives are being regularly introduced by international bodies, national governments and the private sector.
Renewable energy, green taxes, government grants, electric vehicles, these are just a few of the higher profile ideas, but in all areas of life and commerce, countless measures are being explored and implemented.
Which brings us to the property rental market.
It is not an obvious polluter like heavy industry, aviation, shipping or the automobile industry, but it plays an important part in the way millions of people live their lives so the impact of a green rental market could be significant.
The construction industry is heavily invested in building green housing designed to be carbon zero and even produce renewable energy that can be shared with the national grid, but the vast majority of landlords own properties that were built before the new environmental imperatives were in place.
The greening of existing rental properties is, therefore, a little more complicated, but no less important.
Regrettably, there are elements within the commercial community that take a slightly cynical view of the issue and place more emphasis on the appearance of environmental responsibility than on taking effective action.
Whether this is influenced by the controversial practice of trading carbon credits or simply represents a short-sighted economic protectionism is not clear and neither is it important.
The fact is that this tendency exists and even has a name: greenwashing.
The desire for a greener home is not limited to buyers – eco-friendly rental properties are becoming highly sought after as well.
Landlords, rather than burying their heads in the sand, are responding by looking to green-proof their investment properties with a huge variety of measures. Here are some common examples many are installing, adding to or implementing as part of their maintenance schedules.
Changes to guidance and EU regulations on light bulbs have encouraged the abandonment of halogen and the adoption of LED, which can last five times longer and cost less, cutting the average household’s electricity bill by £40 per year.
The installation of smart meters gives tenants the ability to monitor their energy uses, set daily or weekly budgets and become much more aware of how easy it is both to waste and to conserve energy.
Putting a low-flow showerhead in the bathroom reduces water and therefore energy consumption by aerating the water but maintaining a perfectly sufficient pressure, while a dual flush lavatory converter is an affordable alternative to replacing the whole lavatory unit and cuts water use by up to 50%.
Recycling is an extremely valuable practice and landlords can encourage this amongst their tenants by persuading the local council to provide sufficient bins to make the process easy. Homeowners tend to be more conscientious about recycling so it is essential to spread the practice amongst the UK’s millions of private tenants.
However, while measures like these are always worthwhile, it is vital to beware of the temptations of greenwashing, in which the small, easy steps are taken while the big issues remain unaddressed.
There is no substitute for major upgrades and improvements like new, highly efficient boilers, state-of-the-art insulation, properly maintained double glazing and draft exclusion, energy efficient freezers, cookers, dishwashers and washing machines. Buying energy efficient products and appliances is no easier than ever with the internet and comparison websites.
The installation of solar panels, too, can be very costly but produces long term benefits, both environmental and financial.
Picking the low hanging fruit
It is remarkably easy for landlords to present their properties as eco-friendly simply by picking the low-hanging fruit of property greening. A long list of modest adjustments can look very impressive but what such lists leave out is extremely instructive.
If an old boiler is eating up energy to provide hot water and heating, then no amount of insulation will compensate for its wasteful use. The benefits of saving water in the bathroom can be easily outweighed by a faulty cistern seal or antiquated kitchen appliances which consume water at an alarming rate.
If landlords are merely ticking environmental boxes then they are probably doing nothing more than sticking plasters over serious wounds.
Inventory Base specialises in providing inventory property management software which inventory clerks, property managers, and reporting professionals can use to produce highly detailed, customised property inspection reports for landlords and letting agents.
One of the many useful features of a property inspection app is its capacity to prompt providers to examine in detail the environmental effectiveness of any modifications the landlord has made and to highlight obvious omissions and oversights.
A responsible landlord can and should be taking the lead by demonstrating genuine commitment.
Communicating this commitment through actions as well as words will help persuade tenants that in their own small way they really can make a difference.
If there is any suspicion that the landlord’s efforts are half-hearted, or designed simply to satisfy appearances, then their current and future tenants are unlikely to feel motivated to interact with and look after a home they do not own and for which the landlord chooses not to take responsibility.
Letting agents and the wider PRS can help influence, support and aid the transition as both part of their own environmental strategies and drive towards a greener and therefore more sustainable property rental sector.
Supporting the landlord, advising and guiding them through what can be quite a complicated minefield, including government financial assistance, can only help the tenant to choose their agency over those less focused on the green agenda.
Climate change can only be combatted through collaboration at each and every level.