Achieving net zero in social housing: Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce report

This report outlines work undertaken by Zero Emission Social Housing Task Force. Within the report the recommendations set out what is required to achieve zero emission housing whilst ensuring support for tenants in reducing their energy bills and achieving carbon savings.

Challenges and Recommendations

Members of ZEST identified key questions that need to be addressed in the work required to get to net zero emissions in the social housing sector.

1. What barriers exist to driving forwards a just transition to net zero in the social housing sector and what is required from all partners to address these barriers?

2. How can all partners come together to ensure funding and finance incentivise and enable a just and fair transition to net zero for the social sector at the pace and scale required?

3. What is required to ensure we continue to make progress on tackling fuel poverty while achieving zero emission homes in the social sector?

4. How do we maximise the social and economic opportunities in the transition?

Supporting a just transition

ZEST recognised the central role of social housing in meeting the challenge of the global climate emergency. Central to our discussions was how social landlords can tackle climate change while continuing to provide more homes overall, to an increasingly high quality, and manage the risk to tenants of new technology and future costs.

It is understood and agreed by Scottish Government and social landlords that any increased running costs of decarbonised heating must not exacerbate fuel poverty nor result in rent poverty. Without a scaling up of existing grant funding for social landlords, there is a real risk the financial impact of meeting net zero targets may result in some costs having to be passed onto tenants.

Recommendation 1:

The Scottish Government and social landlords should develop a collective commitment to a just transition in the social housing sector with clear metrics and sufficient budgetary investment to ensure this is successfully realised.


1. Social landlords and Scottish Government should work together to set out clear metrics on how we will collectively evidence a just transition for social housing in Scotland. Metrics should align with existing targets around fuel poverty as well as linking directly with the National Performance Framework.

2. The Scottish Government, social landlords and partners should make a clear commitment to a just transition, ensuring policy and plans recognise and mitigate against potential negative impacts for social tenants and maximise potential opportunities such as jobs and economic opportunities for local areas.

3. The Scottish Government has already made a commitment to regular and ongoing engagement with the sector on the Social Housing Net Zero Heat Fund, facilitated through sector membership bodies. The Scottish Government should increase the funding available through this Fund, and work with social landlords to build partnership approaches to enable long-term, adequate funding building on core landlord investments already being made.

4. While recognising the Scottish Government has limited devolved powers in this area, consideration should be given to the need for a systemic change in tax rates and VAT for refurbishment works, in order that the cost of meeting zero emissions targets is linked to ability to pay, as recommended by the Just Transition Commission. The Scottish Government should continue to lobby the UK Government for changes.

Box 1: Green Neighbourhoods as a Service – Bankers without Boundaries

Bankers without Boundaries (BWB) is a not-for-profit, finance innovation organisation which aims to support high impact projects which offer environmental and social benefits, including those which may not otherwise be pursued by the financial sector. As part of the Healthy, Clean Cities programme run by the European Institute of Technology Climate – Knowledge and Innovation Community in partnership with Tomorrows Cities Partners, Dark Matter Labs and The Democratic Society, they are currently exploring Green Neighbourhoods as a Service (GNaaS), a new model whereby a central entity, on a city or regional basis, oversees an area based retrofit programme. Works are funded through a long-term (30 year+) comfort and maintenance contract with the residents with anticipated reductions in energy demand and efficient use of local heat and electricity generation then offsetting the proposed comfort and maintenance fee. Community benefits can also be increased through this neighbourhood approach to regeneration and investment. Pilot projects are currently underway in Milan and Zagreb with plans to extend to other cities, including Edinburgh.


Structuring and design of capital investment

ZEST agreed that the way forward needs to be on the basis of a Fabric First approach, which means ensuring that buildings are as efficient as possible (where cost effective) so that the energy we currently use is not wasted. This will reduce energy consumption and, if demand is reduced, then heating systems will be less expensive to run, which also helps to address fuel poverty.

The collective investment required to deliver the net zero vision is considerable. Social landlords are already experiencing a number of financial challenges due to cumulative impacts of other regulatory requirements and the rising costs of materials and labour, exacerbated by Brexit and COVID.

Ensuring homes are safe and compliant with new regulations comes at a cost, as does building new stock to meet the outstanding need for affordable social homes in Scotland, including supporting the Scottish Government’s ambition to deliver an additional 100,000 affordable homes by 2032. It is increasingly difficult for social landlords to meet these costs while limiting rent increases and yet the wider impacts of austerity, delays in processing and rollout of Universal Credit, and the ongoing pandemic are also putting pressure on tenants and rental income. Social landlords therefore have little capacity to put the capital costs of net zero projects onto rents if costs are to remain affordable for tenants. The challenging financial position of local government, and the many competing demands on resources, will also have an impact on capacity to deliver on this.

Previous grant programmes for decarbonisation have been competitive in nature with short application windows and complex application processes. Many social landlords have not been in a position to make applications to this type of scheme despite the need for financial support. A consistent multi-year fund, allocated based on need, would enable social landlords to plan more effectively and access the support required.

While further work is needed to explore how non-competitive funding would work in practice, in the more immediate term social landlords will be working with the Scottish Government to maximise the impact of the existing five-year Social Housing Net Zero Heat Fund (to ensure it offers greater flexibility, is simpler to access and offers realistic timescales to allow alignment with social landlords’ capital programmes). We welcome the £10m additional funding being made available to projects seeking to carry out energy efficiency only projects that demonstrate they are taking a Fabric First approach with the intention of installing zero emission heating systems technologies in following years.

To maximise the opportunities and support available, social landlords need to be planning for the transition, as many already are doing. Supporting social landlords to work alongside industry and the Scottish Government to support innovation and investment, and be ready to take up any new opportunities, will ensure a more effective transition. As part of the drive towards the tenure-neutral approach outlined in Housing to 2040, engagement needs to be facilitated with private rented sector landlords and owner-occupiers.

Opportunities arising from Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) should also be encouraged and supported, particularly as LHEES is likely to become central to the planning of decarbonisation. Local government engagement with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and Scottish Government will be critical to maximise the impact of LHEES and the potential financial savings resulting from area-based delivery including increased economies of scale and bulk purchasing.

Recommendation 2:

The Scottish Government should promote a Fabric First approach as an essential first step towards decarbonisation, prioritising investment accordingly, and ensure that the promotion of a Fabric First approach is reflected appropriately in its review of EESSH2.


1. As part of its overall aim to decarbonise housing, the Scottish Government should strengthen the commitment in its draft Heat in Buildings Strategy to promote a Fabric First approach, with a particular focus on further thermal upgrades and addressing airtightness and cold bridging. This would help to reduce overall energy demand and therefore help to make the installation of some zero emissions heating systems more technically viable and cost effective for tenants and landlords. Importantly, this will make significant progress in addressing the fuel poverty agenda and reduce demand on energy networks.

2. Building on the experiences of social landlords, the Scottish Government should continue to allocate specific funding and dedicated support for fabric improvement measures to reduce heat demand.

Box 2: Deep Retrofit Guidelines

Renfrewshire Council, in partnership with John Gilbert Architects and the University of Strathclyde, has undertaken a pilot project involving the deep retrofit of a ‘four-in-block’ archetype. The aim was to demonstrate how a local authority can deliver best value from all aspects of its procurement and maintenance budgets: maximising energy efficiency, whilst also addressing a range of national and local outcomes; in particular the comfort and health of tenants and the durability of the building stock. Phase 1 of the project involved the development of an initial template for ‘Deep Retrofit Guidelines’ while phase 2 will explore how this approach could be developed for other housing archetypes.

Recommendation 3:

The Scottish Government should work with social landlords to ensure capital investment for social housing is adequate, structured and designed in line with the needs of the sector, and supports the social housing sector’s aim for a Fabric First approach.


1. Social landlords should work with the Scottish Government to commission a sector capacity assessment to determine the net cost increase of the transition above current investment cost profile. This would support social landlords to progress more accurate plans for the transition, offer a baseline for levels of investment required to support consistency across Scotland (while recognising regional variation), and inform ongoing grant and loan funding investment from national government and other sources in annual budgetary processes.

2. Following the completion of the proposed sector capacity assessment, the Scottish Government and partners should explore options for a long-term, non-competitive

grant fund for social landlords which can be distributed fairly across the sector based on need. Any grant funds should incorporate realistic timescales for design and delivery, so that proper planning and alignment with social landlords’ confirmed capital programmes, or other local opportunities (e.g. area based schemes and LHEES), can take place. Grant funds should ensure social landlords are able to carry out works to mixed tenure blocks in which owners may be unable to fund their share of the cost of works.

3. The Scottish and UK Governments should consider new low-cost funding sources, e.g. European Investment Bank style funding for specific societal benefit projects (i.e. very low cost).

4. A coalition formed across the social housing sector and local and national government should advance discussions with private sector funders and their regulators on core principles of lending to the social housing sector to identify where changes could be made to improve the cost efficiency of the funding while ensuring an appropriate risk profile and rate of return for the lenders.

Box 3: Southside Housing Association EnerPHit project

Southside Housing Association, with financial support from Glasgow City Council, has been working alongside John Gilbert Architects to refurbish a typical Glasgow tenement to the EnerPHit standard. This is a modified version of the Passivhaus standard which can be applied to retrofit scenarios while still demanding high levels of energy efficiency and a fabric first approach. As a demonstration project, a detailed evaluation of the building performance will be included while the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) will lead on assessing the scalability and replicability of the lessons learned for Scotland’s tenement stock. This project is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), as part of its recent Climate Emergency Collaboration Challenge, with other partners including Glasgow City Council, CCG Ltd, University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow.


Providing social landlords with certainty

While recognising the need for early action to move from gas and other fossil fuels to zero emissions heating through a range of near-term available technologies, some landlords have concerns about whether heat pumps will perform as modelled, having had operational problems with older technologies. There are also remaining concerns about the higher unit cost of electricity compared to gas, which can undermine the financial benefits of more efficient systems for tenants.

These concerns must be addressed if heat pumps (and potentially other forms of electric heating), are to play the crucial and significant role currently proposed in the draft Heat in Building Strategy. These near-term technologies and heat networks that can be deployed at scale provide a route to making progress, which needs to be made over the next decade in order to ensure at least one million of our homes are decarbonised by 2030 to achieve Scotland’s very ambitious statutory 2030 75% target.[2] Even though the co-efficiency of performance for heat pumps reduces the overall demand for energy, that energy is currently still four or five times the unit price of gas.

ZEST discussed the future potential of hydrogen for heating. ZEST members felt it important that social landlords have access in the future to hydrogen heating options, should those materialise, and that at energy-system level, the option of deploying hydrogen is kept open, fully explored, evidenced, and developed. However, given that the potential for decarbonised hydrogen for heat will not be realised until the 2030s at the earliest, we cannot wait for this. Significant constraints in the near-term availability of hydrogen and uncertainties around future costs to consumers, coupled with a need to establish the standards and safe systems for hydrogen gas use, repurposing of the gas network and replacing household appliances, means that decarbonised gas is unlikely to play a large part in meeting our heating needs before the 2030s.

ZEST noted the Scottish Government’s intention to bring forward the review of EESSH2 to 2023. However, it was felt that given that the context has shifted significantly since EESSH and EESSH2 targets were proposed, there is a strong case for bringing the review further forward still to consider progress made and identify where social landlords efforts should be focused now. A holistic approach is needed to support positive outcomes for tenants and ensure alignment of fuel poverty, energy efficiency and zero emissions objectives.

This review needs to reflect on wider concerns about EPCs as a tool to evaluate performance, and the Scottish Government’s proposal to review EPCs was welcomed. UK-wide assessment methodologies like SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure), on which EPCs are based, need to be appropriate for the Scottish context. As a cost-based indicator, the current Energy Efficiency Rating used to measure progress against EESSH2 does not incentivise some zero emissions technologies and also penalises other interventions such as mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems. It was suggested that rather than basing EESSH2 compliance on an inaccurate RdSAP (Reduced Data Standard Assessment Procedure) score, it should be based on the energy use of the property, i.e. kWh/m2/year, aligning with Fabric First and avoiding the addition of unsuitable or unnecessary technology. Members also considered that the current approach fails to recognise the difference between modelled and actual performance and does not take account of wider factors such as airtightness, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and embodied energy/CO2 emissions.

Recommendation 4:

Social landlords and the Scottish Government must work together to plan ahead with certainty, including working with new partners to access and maximise funding opportunities.


1. In the live development and review of a range of interconnected policies, the Scottish Government should aim to provide clarity on the connections and tensions between different strategies and targets relating to net zero, primarily the Heat in Buildings Strategy, Fuel Poverty Strategy, rent affordability and EESSH2.

2. The proposed review of EESSH2 should be brought forward to commence immediately with a final decision on the revised approach and implementation no later than 2023. This should include a period of reflection and further research while also allowing the outcomes of the recently published consultation on EPC assessments to be considered.

3. In order that time is not wasted planning for the requirements as they currently stand, if it is now likely the goalposts will shift, the Scottish Government and Scottish Housing Regulator should issue interim guidance on what measures should be prioritised during the review period.

4. A new Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group, with representatives from the social housing sector, should be established to provide guidance and clarity on technical solutions and to continually review progress and refresh existing strategies as new energy and zero emissions heating systems are evaluated and developed (see Appendix D).

5. The Scottish Government should engage with the UK Government to determine the availability, timing and risk of alternative energy sources (e.g. low carbon or green hydrogen) and the future role of the gas network to enable the social housing sector to prepare short, medium and long-term investment plans.

6. The Scottish Government’s proposed analysis in the draft Heat in Buildings Strategy on the strategic areas most and least likely to have access to low carbon or green hydrogen in the future should be progressed as a matter of priority. This should also incorporate cost appraisals in order to consider the overall affordability of, and appetite for, hydrogen and whether this is a viable option for social landlords and their tenants.

7. A central repository of funding opportunities, in one strategic package, for social landlords should be created, bringing together opportunities from government and other strategic bodies, and social landlords, local authorities and national governments should continue to work together to ensure funding opportunities are maximised to match the scale of the challenge.

Box 4: Integrated energy system and zero emissions heating in Orkney

Orkney Housing Association (OHAL) is exploring innovative ways in which it can reduce fuel poverty whilst delivering zero-emissions heating. It is exploring using solar photovoltaics (PV) and battery storage linked to fabric upgrades and high heat retention storage heating. They are also investigating a similar option with the ReFLEX project. ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) Orkney is a £28.5 million project, funded by UKRI through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which aims to develop an integrated energy system in Orkney. The project is led by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) with cross-sector partners including Aquatera, SMS (Smart Metering Systems), Community Energy Scotland, Heriot-Watt University and Orkney Islands Council. Local electricity, transport and heat networks will be interlinked through a ‘FlexiGrid’ control platform with flexibility supported through the use of battery storage and smart technology. A new local energy tariff for those living in Orkney has also been introduced as part of the system.

Understanding the existing stock

ZEST recognised that the Scottish social housing has a limited number of building types for most of its housing stock, and therefore there is an opportunity to develop standard approaches by type, e.g. tenements, four-in-a-block, no-fines, timber frame, which would support a Fabric First approach. Social landlords already have a responsibility to monitor the condition of their housing stock, although the approach to collecting this information is not always consistent. There is, therefore, an opportunity to develop a standardised approach which will in turn help establish investment needs and priorities across the sector.

There is also an opportunity to collect robust data to inform the development of archetype-based guidance, but data has to come from independent sources such as universities or consultants, rather than the product suppliers or companies carrying out the retrofit work, to ensure no conflict of interest.

There were general concerns about how the market operates to supply technical solutions for housing. It was felt that landlords rather than market suppliers need to be in control of projects and have greater control of what solutions are available so they are the most appropriate for their stock. Critical to this will be the development of a structured programme to identify, design, develop and install retrofit solutions for given property archetypes and ensure a consistent approach across Scotland. A further supporting paper outlines a suggested structure for this process (see Appendix D).

Fig 1: Suggested structure for further working groups (See supporting paper by Professor Sean Smith – Developing Net Zero Technical Solutions for Scotland’s Future Mass Retrofit Housing Programme – (
Chart showing the formulation of the groups required to deliver the work going forward

Recommendation 5:

Social landlords and the Scottish Government should commit to working together in partnership to understand the current condition and investment needs of the existing social housing stock and develop appropriate collaborative solutions.


1. Social landlords should undertake an in-depth and updated stock condition survey to assist in mapping the existing stock, including details of new builds, adaptations and previous retrofit measures. A standardised approach should be adopted to feed into the proposed Housing Stock Condition Group (see Appendix D) which will assist in tracking and working with the future mass rollout of key retrofit archetype solutions.

2. The proposed Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group, supported by Scottish Government, should compile existing data through the Archetype, Fabric and Energy Systems Group (AFESG), including existing evaluations and case studies of previous retrofit programmes, in a central online repository, to provide shared learning outcomes for social landlords and other tenures. Development of key archetype solutions, based on specific new pilot data gathering projects should be undertaken for Scotland’s six largest housing archetypes, representing 80% of the stock. Further details of proposals to deliver this are set out in Appendix D.

3. Where complex solutions or innovation grand challenge solutions are required for particular property archetypes, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CS-IC) should lead research and early pilots for heating prototypes, including research into lesser-known technologies which may offer effective and efficient heating replacements for more challenging archetypes.

4. The Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group should work with the Scottish Futures Trust to explore options for regional delivery vehicles/energy service companies (ESCOs) to support energy efficiency and decarbonisation works in the social housing sector. This should include an investigation into whether not-for-profit entities could manage works on behalf of a local authority and RSL, or a group of local authorities and RSLs.

Box 5: River Clyde Homes

In 2018, River Clyde Homes completed the installation of one of the first Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) to serve a social rented tower block in Scotland. Kilblain Court in Greenock comprises 61 flats and is in a popular town centre location. River Clyde Homes decided to remove gas boilers from its tower blocks in 2016 and replace these with low carbon communal systems to improve safety, reduce emissions and achieve the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH). The ASHP was chosen following an options appraisal that included customer involvement. The replacement of mains gas with renewable technology provided a small energy efficiency gain and the Environmental Impact Rating improved significantly from 81 to 95 (out of a maximum potential of 96). Feedback from customers has been positive with residents now enjoying warmer homes and lower energy costs.

Shared learning and communication to support technological solutions

A theme that emerged strongly during the meetings was the need to engage with tenants. Unless tenants support and understand change, the wellbeing benefits will not be realised. If we do not take seriously concerns about the cost of alternative heating systems, tenants will have justifiable concerns about future fuel price rises. New technologies will mean new ways of heating our homes, and the key to this is simplicity for the user.

It was also emphasised that engagement needs to include owner occupiers and private landlords, as improvement in social housing cannot be delivered in isolation from area-based solutions, in order to address the wider impact of climate change and the quality of communities in which we all live.

Recommendation 6:

Social landlords and both local and national government should work in partnership to ensure individuals and communities are fully engaged and supported in the net zero transition.


1. The Scottish Government should publish its delayed Fuel Poverty Strategy by the end of 2021, as it has committed to do, and ensure it includes a coherent programme tailored to the needs of individual households that addresses the four drivers of fuel poverty, reflecting the rapidly evolving context of decarbonisation of heating.

2. The Scottish Government should publish as a priority its final ‘Net Zero Nation’ public engagement strategy, to which social landlords should respond with local tenant engagement plans, sharing experiences with the Scottish Government to facilitate ongoing learning.

3. As part of its public engagement strategy, the Scottish Government should develop tailored communication materials to support the rollout of unfamiliar technologies alongside a national winter education campaign to promote home energy efficiency, including heating and ventilation practices.[3] This should include clear routes to ongoing advice and support to minimise any potential negative impacts (e.g. disruption, increased fuel bills or rent, or operational issues).

4. National and local government should work together to ensure early and meaningful engagement with social landlords and their tenants as part of the development of LHEES and community climate action initiatives, in order that social tenants are included in and consulted on decisions on heat decarbonisation in their community. The development of LHEES should take cognisance of social landlord investment plans and include them as a consultee in the development of LHEES Delivery Plans.

5. The Scottish Government should increase investment in local advice services, including those provided by social landlords, in addition to that in government-funded services such as Home Energy Scotland.

6. Emergency redress funds should be made available to social landlords and their tenants, providing an additional safety net which protects those on low incomes from being negatively impacted by the rollout of new technologies.

7. The Scottish Government should progress planned work to achieve a cross tenure quality standard that will underpin the transition to decarbonised housing, per its commitment in Housing to 2040.

Box 6: City of Edinburgh Council – Solar PV and battery storage

As part of the commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions in Edinburgh by 2030, the City of Edinburgh Council has been working in partnership with Changeworks to deliver renewable energy systems to local authority tenants as part of an area-based retrofit programme. Over 100 council owned homes have been fitted with solar PV and battery storage, with Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth Team then providing individual advice and support to ensure tenants can maximise the benefits of the system.


Quality control and skills

There was an overall recognition that the social housing sector, through its collective influence and approach, could play a significant role as an anchor for growth and investment in the supply chain for energy efficiency and zero emissions heat deployment at significant scale. It is vital that opportunities to drive quality standards while creating new green jobs and upskilling the existing workforce are maximised in this process. The Scottish Government has already made various commitments on improving skills in the construction industry.

The ongoing work by Skills Development Scotland and the Energy Skills Partnership to understand the future skills needed in the transition to net zero will be critical and the proposal for a National Construction Skills Academy is also welcome. ZEST also discussed the need for training to be easily accessible and offer flexible learning opportunities and the recent creation of nine Renewable and Energy Efficiency Training Centres is a positive first step in this process.

However, further investment will be required to improve local supply chain capacity and ensure social housing providers are able to access suitably qualified and experienced contractors. ZEST had particular concerns about the availability of tradespeople with the necessary skills and qualifications, particularly in island and rural areas. Issues were raised about the costs and timescales for training which are required for particular accreditations, such as PAS2035. There was concern that changes to current funding routes could require specific accreditations (e.g. PAS2035) in order to access particular grants, and this would make it more difficult to source local suppliers, especially in these areas. It was also noted that training for electricians, which takes longer in Scotland when compared to the rest of the UK, may constrain the ability to meet the need for electrification of heating and of transport.

There was, however, a recognition that the social housing sector, through its collective influence and approach, could play a significant role as an anchor for growth and investment in the supply chain.

Recommendation 7:

All partners must work together to ensure there is sufficient workforce capacity in Scotland to deliver high-quality retrofit works in the social housing sector.


1. As part of the proposed Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group, work should be taken forward to conduct an ongoing audit of skills and qualification processes based on the identified measures for property archetypes and as new technological solutions develop. This should be in conjunction with Skills Development Scotland and the No One Left Behind delivery plan for employability, and include representatives from rural, remote and island communities as well as feed into the Scottish Government’s proposed supply chain action plan.

2. Social landlords should incorporate supply chain considerations in their forward planning to support the transition and ensure demand for new skills and workforce is well understood to inform Scottish Government action on workforce investment.

3. Increased support for Scottish colleges should be progressed as a priority, and targeted grant funding provided for training and upskilling in line with proposed accreditation requirements (e.g. PAS 2035). This should include a specific funding stream to support small and rural contractors and their staff alongside funding for online retrofit co-ordinator training for those with appropriate construction expertise. This should be considered in conjunction with the Scottish Government’s work on upskilling EPC assessors.

4. The Scottish Government should ensure the development of a flexible approach to the introduction of PAS2035 in Scotland, allowing temporary exemptions or extensions in areas with limited access to accredited installers, and providing additional support packages to remote, rural and island communities (e.g. interim provision of gap funding where ECO funding cannot be accessed). The Scottish Government should also allow accredited retrofit co-ordinators to sign-off works to ensure locally-based smaller contractors in rural, remote and island communities can continue to participate in retrofit programmes.

Box 7: Warmer Homes Scotland

The Scottish Government’s Warmer Homes Scotland scheme offers funding and support to households struggling to stay warm and keep on top of energy bills. Warmworks is the Managing Agent for the programme and has developed a network of local suppliers to deliver retrofit works across Scotland, working with 24 SMEs (6 of which are located in island communities). To date, the scheme has sustained more than 130 apprenticeships across the wider supply chain of installers and manufacturers in addition to supporting 600 local jobs and around 2,000 new training opportunities.


Understanding the wider impacts

Understanding the impact of the required changes on tenants and wider communities is critical. In addition to ensuring they are fully engaged from the outset, there needs to be an outcomes-focused approach to evaluation which is based on measured data and feedback from the occupiers. This should recognise the broader impacts of retrofitting homes with an evaluation process which captures aspects such as comfort, satisfaction, and wellbeing. Housing has been identified as a key social determinant of health and improving the quality of homes should be viewed as an important public health measure.

The difference between modelled and actual performance in both new and existing social homes also needs to be better understood. While this performance gap can be minimised through improved technical guidance, better support for the end-user and improved skills and quality control, further action is needed to ensure the assumed benefits of investment are realised and maximised where possible. However, this operational energy use is only one element of achieving net zero ambitions. While this is outwith ZEST’s immediate scope, an approach to Life Cycle Analysis and whole-life costing needs to be developed over the longer-term to ensure this is addressed and that the wider impacts are understood.

The group’s discussions primarily focused on the actions needed to achieve zero emissions from heat in the existing social sector stock. However, it was acknowledged there are many other factors to consider if Scotland is to become a truly net zero nation. Social landlords, and indeed all organisations, will need to review their broader operations and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) obligations if they wish to reduce their overall impact on the environment and support the transition to net zero. ZEST noted the work of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, Scotland’s Climate Assembly, Zero Waste Scotland and the recommendations of a number of other groups on the wider actions needed in the Scottish Government’s response to climate change, including consideration of embodied greenhouse gas emissions. Members felt that ZEST should continue in some form to inform social housing’s contribution to these actions.

Recommendation 8:

Social housing providers should continue to evaluate their wider impacts and ongoing contribution to tackling the climate emergency, through systematic monitoring and measurement.


1. Social landlords, with the support of sector representative bodies, may wish to develop broader sustainability or ESG strategies to assess the impact of their organisation as a whole and ongoing action required to tackle the climate emergency.

2. A monitoring and evaluation framework should be developed for future energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation programmes to ensure consistent methodologies and comparable data. This should have an outcomes-based approach based on actual performance data and feedback from the occupiers. Evaluation should recognise the impact of the rebound effect (e.g. where potential energy savings are absorbed through comfort increases) and the other positive outcomes for tenants (e.g. improved health and wellbeing, increased satisfaction) as well as unintended negative outcomes. Tenants should be part of the design process in terms of evaluation. This activity should be funded by the Scottish Government, and reviewed on an ongoing basis by the Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group.

3. In line with recommendations by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland and Scotland’s Climate Assembly, the Scottish Government should explore a whole life cycle approach to assessing costs and environmental impacts, which includes not only direct (Scope 1) greenhouse gas emissions but also indirect (Scope 2 and 3) emissions.[4] This should build on Zero Waste Scotland’s previous research (Embodied carbon: status quo and suggested roadmap) and involve input from the proposed Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group as new technologies and retrofit solutions emerge.

Box 8: Hab-Lab

The Hab-Lab service provides detailed building performance monitoring and evaluation to help improve the energy efficiency and durability of buildings as well as the health and comfort of residents. Led by John Gilbert Architects, and delivered in partnership with the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit (MEARU) at Glasgow School of Art, the approach supports social landlords to benchmark, measure and improve the performance of their building stock. This also includes assessing the performance gap, occupant behaviour and ensuring tenants are supported with new technology. Initial social landlord partners included Govanhill Housing Association, Clyde Valley Housing Association, Ayrshire Housing, Reidvale Housing Association and Renfrewshire Council and several others, including private landlords, have now taken advantage of the service.


Finally, we note there are a few areas set out in the initial framing questions that the group did not have an opportunity to consider in detail, such as delivering net zero in mixed tenure buildings, heat networks and energy storage. These are matters that merit further discussion and should be taken forward by the proposed Housing Net Zero Technical Steering Group (see Appendix D).



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