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Enough is better than More

Achieving EU climate goals, decent housing and affordable energy for all through sufficiency policies.

Our spaces are not reflecting our needs

We would not wear shoes five sizes too big, so why would we take up spaces beyond our needs and means?

Our built environment is a massive burden on the planet. In the European Union alone, buildings account for 50% of all extracted material and 40% of the energy consumption. Despite progress in reducing energy demand in European buildings, overall CO2 emissions per capita have continued to increase in recent years driven mostly by two trends: more consumption and demands for bigger buildings in some areas.

Residential floor area per capita in the wealthiest European Member States is well above the global average estimated in scenarios aiming at 1.5°C target, with many spaces under-occupied (e.g., offices that are only used half of the time). If we consider sufficiency policies to reduce space wasting and optimise our resources, emissions in the use phase of buildings of residential buildings could be significantly lower by 20250.

In a time where many struggle to afford a home and daily bills and planetary boundaries are stretched to their limits, we need to reflect how we use our built spaces, and how we can best match our needs within our resource budgets. We need sufficiency policies.

"Sufficiency policies are a set of measures and daily practices to avoid the demand for energy, materials, land, water, and other natural resources over the lifecycle of buildings and goods while delivering wellbeing for all within planetary boundaries."

Sufficiency vs. efficiency

From one way to optimise resources to another, it can be difficult to tell efficiency and sufficiency apart. 

Efficiency refers to reducing the amount of resources used in the production, distribution and use-phase of energy and materials, whereas sufficiency refers to an absolute reduce in demand. Put into example, efficiency measure would be adding insulations to reduce energy bills, while sufficiency measure would be moving towards smaller and flex-work offices to avoid heating and cooling oversized and underutilised spaces. 

Both concepts are key parts of the SER framework, the key to decarbonise our built environment. 

While efficiency is essential, it cannot be enough to renovate the EU’s ageing building stock and improve their energy efficiency. The vast scale of the decoupling required, and the urgency with which it must be achieved, relying solely on one method to transition to a sustainable future is impossible. We must complement our renewable transition and efficiency policies with sufficiency, for reasons of both ecological sustainability and social justice.

It's not about having less

It’s about ensuring our wellbeing, meeting our adequate needs, all the while not breaking planetary boundaries when it comes to the natural resources (e.g. energy, land, materials) required to upkeep the lifecycle of buildings.

The sufficiency approach  spans beyond behavioural change and may, for example, include occupying empty buildings, promoting shared spaces or just space allocation. One attempt to define the implementation of sufficiency in buildings has been formulated as “the adequate space thoughtfully constructed and sufficiently equipped for reasonable use”.

Sufficiency means that everyone can enjoy a decent housing, including the ability to afford the energy required in the buildings to cover the essential needs. Sufficiency measures mean further energy savings, in addition to those done through efficiency measures and the satisfaction of our needs through renewables. Together with circularity, sufficiency approaches have a huge potential to help reduce embodied emissions and ultimately decarbonise our building stock, as well as reduce the sector’s material footprints.  

What do sufficiency policies look like?

Adaptable and flexible buildings

Buildings should be designed in a functional and flexible way so that they can be adapted to the evolving needs of people.

Example: Cohaus Kloster Schehdorf (DE)

A former monastery is repurposed into a residential project with flexible living constellations. The space comprises of a coworking area, a shared guest house, seminar rooms and space for small businesses. 300 rooms are subdivided in different clusters composed of small rented flats/rooms that each share a kitchen and different living rooms.

Using empty and rundown buildings

These should be repurposed or renovated as housing and/or reallocated to people in need of housing so as to avoid building new ones.

Example: ShareHome (BE)

The Brussels start-up finds vacant houses in the city, manages the renovation (insulation, solar panels and preservation of ancient buildings) and acts as intermediate between owners and renters. Houses are transformed into a coliving initiative with an average 8 people per house. ShareHome manages 80 houses and 600 tenants.

Flexible housing policy

When feasible and desirable, policies should support a shift from home ownership to usership. People will have the right to live in spaces comfortably fitting of their needs, instead of being bound to bigger homes which waste energy and resources.

Promoting shared spaces and services

Shared spaces, products and services (e.g., laundry rooms, garages) can reduce space use and CO2 emissions, while giving access to more people. Designing multipurpose rooms is also an effective solution.

Example: Agency for Building communities (DE)

Agentur für Baugemeinschaft in Hamburg is the central contact point for people interested in building and joining a coliving space. The agency provides support from the initial idea to realisation, from assisting putting the group together as well as all relevant logistical and administrative tasks.

Adaptable real estate sector

The real estate sector should provide flexible options for housing depending on the size of the household which can vary over time. Larger households should have priority when it comes to allocating homes..

More on sufficiency

With this report the EEB calls for a full decarbonisation of the EU building stock that ensures emissions reduction driven by sufficiency and circularity will not remain untapped.

An overview of challenges in the social and economic foundation of European urban areas.

The paper outlines how more balanced, efficient space use represents a massive opportunity for wellbeing, climate mitigation and adaptation, and nature.

In the context of the development of the CLEVER scenario led by the negaWatt association, the authors establish a common vision on the residential sector bridging climate and social requirments.

Concept paper of energy sufficiency in buildings.

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Sufficiency in the built environment
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