& future proof
Sustainability, at its core, is a simple and logical concept: it recognises that we must live in balance with nature, to meet our needs today without compromising those of future generations.
Yet today we Australians live well beyond our means. In fact, it would take 3.6 planet Earths to sustain total demand on nature if the rest of the world consumed resources as we do.
In our globalised, connected world, the consequences of our unsustainable ways come back to us in new and unexpected ways. When climate change precipitates drought and food shortages, for example, it acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ that affects security around the globe (the Syrian conflict being a case in point).
Far from living on the interest of our natural capital, we are quickly spending down the principle: eroding away resources present and future generations depend on. This is not a problem solved by taking out the recycling. We can – we must – do more.
The path to sustainability starts at home
The good news is solutions are within our grasp, and society has already begun to make pivotal changes.
This change begins with the home, your biggest purchase. Embedding sustainability into daily life gives us all the power to make a difference. Truly sustainable homes, like Modulus, are the intelligent choice because they also grow your prosperity, security and resilience, even as they shrink your ecological footprint.
Our survival and quality of life rely on a healthy environment. Yet our planet’s vital signs – the health of our atmosphere, water, soils and biodiversity – indicate the state of our environment is rapidly deteriorating.
Why we must become more energy smart
Climate change is arguably the greatest environmental challenge we face. All life depends on a stable climate, but today our climate is warming rapidly. A global average temperature increase of 1°C has already ramped up extreme weather, made bushfires more ferocious, and caused severe coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.
The cause, scientists agree, is an overload of greenhouse gas emissions from polluting energy systems that burn coal, oil and gas. With the highest per-person carbon dioxide emissions of any developed country, Australia is decidedly part of this problem. Despite our relatively small population, Australia ranks around 16th highest of the world’s 195 countries for total national greenhouse gas emissions.
Homes: a big part of the carbon equation
To reduce climate risks, and give us a chance to save the Great Barrier Reef, we must restrain total global temperature increase to 1.5°C. This will be only possible with a very rapid transition to zero-emission energy sources. And, since some level of future climate change is unavoidable, we must prepare for these inevitable impacts.
Globally, buildings emit about one third of greenhouse gas emissions. Equally, however, energy-smart homes have great potential to cost-effectively reduce our carbon footprint.
Modulus uses a whole portfolio of solutions to get to zero emissions, key among them being embedded renewable generation and ‘passive house design’ features. Passive houses use less power from day to day because they harness natural solar warmth and cooling breezes, and use innovative materials (‘phase change’ materials) that absorb and release heat, to sustain your comfort naturally.
Good density: better for people and the planet
When we increase the density of existing neighbourhoods, we enhance our society’s overall energy efficiency. Higher-density neighbourhoods make public transport more cost effective, facilitating our shift to a low-carbon future. Adding to existing density is more environmentally friendly than to letting development sprawl into green spaces that currently support agriculture or wildlife. Increasing density is also a way to rationalise rising land costs, and to support enhanced amenity like local shops and cafes.
Yet to actually be sustainable and enhance neighbourhoods, density must be ‘good’: well-planned and liveable, with access to green, open space, and transport connections. Adaptable housing modules are one innovative way to increase density.
Clearing the air, inside and out
The quality of the air we breathe fundamentally affects our health. Outdoor air pollution is a serious health threat, one that climate warming is expected worsen. Each year in Australia air pollution already leads to 3,000 premature deaths and up to $24.3 billion in healthcare costs. Air pollution is especially harmful for society’s most vulnerable: the elderly, children and people with existing illness.
The good news is a shift to clean, renewable energy sources, in our homes and beyond, will help solve both air pollution and climate change. This will be an important double win for people and the planet.
Healthy indoor air quality is also important. Building designs should facilitate excellent natural ventilation, and select materials with indoor air quality in mind. This is why, for example, Modulus designs with low-VOC glues.
Improving health and well being
In general, green buildings are healthier environments than the alternatives. Natural ventilation and light, and better indoor air quality enhance not just our physical health, but also our mental performance. This is important given the large proportion of our lives spent indoors, and the growing number of people who work from home.
Water for a thirsty continent
Clean, safe and secure water supply is central to our sustainable future.
Australia is the Earth’s driest inhabited continent, yet we are among the world’s highest per capita water users. Water supplies in many Australian regions are already both variable and constrained. Water scarcity is likely to become more acute as climate change intensifies.
Many Australian cities opt to cope with this water supply uncertainty by building more desalination plants. Yet these energy-hungry plants simply escalate our greenhouse gas emission problems. Recycling water, on the other hand, makes us more climate resilient.
Smart water use is clearly important. The best way to tackle our water use and conservation is at home, with systems to collect and use rainwater, recycle grey water, and automate water conservation and control.
A sustainable society cares for people as well as the environment. Equity, liveability and respect for human rights are among the values that contribute to our society’s general well being.
Green buildings are pivotal to more sustainable societies. They provide communities with beneficial development, increase their residents’ quality of life, and bolster our resilience to better withstand future change.
Demographic shifts sowing uncertainty
Some important social challenges ahead could fundamentally affect Australians’ well being (including their prosperity). A major shift underway in the makeup of our society will see the number of workers per retiree (persons aged over 65) almost halve in future, from 4 workers today to 2.4 workers by 2050.
Governments will likely face difficult decisions as they strain to sustain a whole range of services in the face of rising health care costs. As one possible scenario, government-funded infrastructure we take for granted today, such as transport and energy, may not be funded to the same level in future.
In this context, energy independence – met by sustainable homes with embedded energy supply – gains added importance. Energy independence future proofs homeowners against energy shocks and disruptions, providing security, resilience and peace of mind.
A new housing model is needed to fill gaps
Today many people with grown children wish to downsize their homes. Although some invest in retirement villages, this may not be the best choice for all.
Apart from financial pitfalls (see below), retirement village communities lack the social attributes and amenity sought by some. Whereas retirement villages are often built on the periphery, many downsizers prefer to stay in their own age-diverse neighbourhoods where they have history, to maintain social connections; still others want even greater amenity, for easy strolls to cafes and shops where they can enjoy being a ‘person amongst people’.
In addition to these ‘downsizers’, another group facing market gaps are adults age 30-50 with children at home. Some in this group are restricted to options they find unattractive: low-cost, low-density suburban housing at the periphery, or squeezing their family into relatively small urban apartments.
Adding value and amenity, sustaining community
A new class of residential solution can meet the needs of these groups not well served by today’s market. Modulus’s modular, adaptable complexes of three or more homes can be built in existing neighbourhoods, giving downsizers the option to sustain their history and connectedness to place, while also offering lower maintenance burdens and costs.
For adults with children at home, these well-designed, higher-density alternatives can open up more affordable options in suburban areas closer to the centre, which nevertheless retain many positive attributes of stand-alone dwellings.
Sustainability, of course, has an essential economic dimension. Sustainable economic development hinges on wise resource use, to maintain and build our prosperity into the future.
To get there, we must invest in innovation and technology that will catalyse our transformation into a very different 21st century, and generate the next era of wealth. We’ve already begun to embrace the important ‘clean tech’ industries – from smart grids to energy storage to clean transport – that will drive this next industrial revolution. Modulus is part of this global movement of game-changing clean tech companies.
In Australia alone, the clean tech industry already employs 65,000 people and has more than $30 billion in revenue – equal to a quarter of the entire manufacturing sector. For example, there are now more than 1.5 million household solar power (PV, or photovoltaic) units in Australia, the highest proportion (16.5%) of any country.
Clean tech also helps foster a more just, equitable and sustainable society. Its wide social benefits include reducing illness, providing meaningful, high quality job growth, and stimulating education and training.
The dollars and sense of sustainable homes
For homebuyers specifically, what does economic sustainability mean?
Its criteria are met when housing assets sustain or enhance their owners’ quality of life, operate efficiently and affordably, and sustain or increase their capital.
For many downsizers, retirement villages fail these economic sustainability criteria, especially since they may not conserve or build existing real estate capital.
Under some contracts, for example, operators take a departure fee when owners sell out; operators may also take some or all of the home’s capital gain. Ongoing fees for facilities that residents may not actually use can present a further unwanted financial drain. Some operators charge lower recurrent fees, only to later recoup these operating costs by taking higher departure fees when owners sell. Taken together, these pitfalls show why contracts negotiated with retirement villages may not provide the best return on investment.
Green buildings, on the other hand, generally meet or surpass economic sustainability criteria. This is just one of a whole host of reasons why the smart money heads for sustainable housing.
Green buildings have higher market and rental values. They are easier to sell and lease. They reduce their owners’ vulnerability to rising energy prices and risk of state energy infrastructure erosion. They increase not only residents’ comfort and quality of life, but also their productivity, research shows.
Modulus meets these criteria, and goes a step further: our homes’ lifetime maintenance and operating cost, including energy cost, are also expected to be lower than market alternatives. For market entrants and first-time homebuyers, our ‘PODs’ of three or more homes represent affordable luxury: high-quality homes with relatively low entry and ongoing costs, compared to stand-alone homes.
Wise use and conservation of resources are fundamental to our sustainable future. Today buildings account for 40% of global resource use. To make matters worse, building developers often tap forests and other resources in a way that depletes them, harms biodiversity, and generates pollution.
Developers may specify timber from threatened tree species, for example, or wood extracted from old growth forest ecosystems that are final refuges for highly endangered animals. This consumption drives native forest destruction, species extinction, and social unrest. Other materials or processes, such as cement production, can release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Still others create toxic waste. Finally, long-distance transport of materials generates unnecessary pollution.
Building a home should not cost the Earth. The solution is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient use of building materials, exemplified by Modulus’s holistic approach.
The importance of sustainable supply chains
When you purchase sustainable products you make the most of the planet’s limited resources, and help develop the stable, secure and equitable society we all want.
Unfortunately the words ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are often co-opted as mere marketing buzzwords to make claims that lack substance. Discriminating this ‘greenwash’ from truly sustainable products can be a challenge.
Modulus only uses truly sustainable or recycled materials. Our developments must meet our own rigorous rating process for sustainability, as well as those of arms-length parties, including the Green Building Council of Australia. We also believe it should be easy for buyers to assess whether their purchases are truly sustainable. So we make this process open and transparent, by publicly listing our suppliers alongside their sustainability credentials.
Buyers seeking truly sustainable homes should take the broad view.
Your new home’s energy use should make you part of our vital transition to a clean energy future. It should be built with sustainably sourced materials, and operate with minimal use of energy, water and other resources.
Your housing purchase should also enhance and sustain your community and your connectedness, be healthy and liveable, and future-proof you against coming shocks. Finally, a sustainable home should build your prosperity, and allow you to capture ongoing savings garnered from efficient resource use.
So whereas solar panels and battery storage are a step in the right direction, in and of themselves they do not tick all the boxes. A truly sustainable home requires a holistic approach to minimise not just your energy use and emissions, but all the resources and waste entailed in building and operating a home.