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Aino Taskinen: ”Jealousy as a motive should not be diminished” – activating housing cooperatives towards energy efficiency

2.3.2017 Aino Taskinen
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Aino Taskinen

Energy efficiency sector is growing constantly, but buildings, the second biggest energy consumer in Finland, are falling behind from the recent advance. The development is sluggish especially in apartment buildings. Biggest barrier may lie in the decision making processes of housing cooperatives. Communities in multi-apartment buildings – in Finland forming specific kind of housing cooperatives – are often seen as places where democracy does not exist, nothing gets done, and some inhabitants argue constantly. How to overcome the barrier of shareholders’ divergent opinions?

Reducing energy consumption in apartment buildings can have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions and therefore slow down climate change. Despite national and nationwide energy efficiency regulations, as well as a growing market of energy-efficient solutions, energy consumption in Finnish apartment buildings is declining only remotely. Barriers slowing down energy efficiency include for example misplaced incentives and shortage of information, skills and capital. Lack of information in housing cooperatives seems to be widely caused by inadequate education and age structure of property managers, whereas differing incentives and goals naturally occur in such communities of divergent individuals.

Thus, the causes for slow energy efficiency development in owner-occupied apartment buildings are multidimensional: sustainable energy solution companies have few incentives to enter the fragmented market, while the decision making processes in housing cooperatives are winding. Finnish energy efficiency barriers as well as potential solutions for overcoming them were mapped in a focus group discussion arranged in May 2016 as part of the Use project. I and colleagues at SYKE formed proposals for furthering energy efficient solutions in housing cooperatives from the conversations amongst building and energy efficiency sectors.

Costs of heating, as well as the use of electricity and water could be reduced eminently with energy efficiency improvements. However, many housing cooperatives do not regard these benefits as significant, because investments and payback times are contemplated only in the near future. A lack of longtime plans causes energy renovations to be seen as not profitable. Payback time as an indicator is not always functional in housing sector, but no other metering options have been advanced. The barrier could be tackled with encouraging housing cooperatives to make longtime strategies for the building.

Since most apartment buildings have their own culture and values, this should be exploited in developing the building and the brand of it as well. Branding a building to appear, for instance, as green, affordable or child-friendly can enhance the image and value of it or even the whole neighborhood. Brand uplifting might also further efficiency, since environmental values are generally highly cherished amongst citizens.

In addition to longtime strategies, also jealousy and competitiveness amongst neighborhoods were seen as valid incentives. Another solution proposal was to harness these to act as drivers with, for instance, developing a platform for housing cooperatives to compare energy consumption data. Examples of successful energy renovations could be shared through the platform, which could increase a desire to invest in efficiency. We want to defeat our neighbors, whether it is about owning the coolest car, using the fanciest technology or making the biggest savings. Existing information about efficiency and cost-effectiveness could also be brought up for grabs through the platform, as well as other noteworthy data to brand the building. Technical solutions or policy instruments alone are not enough to tackle the behavioral barriers, but a prevalent Finnish feature, neighbors’ envy, might as well do the trick.

Aino Taskinen has focused on energy efficiency in housing cooperatives on her Master's Thesis and is working at SYKE as an assisting researcher.

Aino Taskinen, Tel: + 358 295 251 803, firstname.surname@ymparisto.fi

Please be advised that the opinions of blog contributors do not reflect the views and opinions of the Finnish Environment Institute.

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