Building the future

Posted: 24 July 2002

Author: Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud and Pooran Desai

A pioneering housing development in southwest London could be the start of a worldwide housing revolution. Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud and Pooran Desai report.

Imagine a housing development constructed from sustainable resources that uses no fossil fuels, produces no net CO2, recycles household waste, provides a crèche, sports club, and solar-powered electric car, is located in a desirable area - and is affordable. Sounds too good to be true? The truth is that this futuristic place already exists, in southwest London.

Beddington Zero-Energy Development (BedZED) is sustainability in practice. This ground-breaking, energy-efficient eco-village comprises some 80 homes and enough office and work space for 200 people, all tucked away in the south London borough of Sutton, UK.

The pioneering initiative was born from an idea conceived and initiated by the BioRegional Development Group - which has a vision of local sustainability - and leading architect Bill Dunster. BedZED was developed by the Peabody Trust, which is committed to providing high-quality, affordable housing for people on low incomes. The Trust has partners from the mainstream engineering, construction, and quantity surveying companies Arup, Ellis and Moore, and Gardiner and Theobald. The conservation organization WWF also supported the project from the beginning.

Work began on the brownfield site in May 2000. In the words of the developers, the aim was "to make sustainability easy, attractive, and affordable". The overall objective is to enable people to live in a sustainable way - within an 'ecological footprint' of two hectares, the per capita environmental space available globally - but without sacrificing the comforts and advantages of a modern, mobile lifestyle.

This approach paid off, and by July the same year the project had won a prestigious Royal Institute of Builders and Architects (RIBA) award for excellence in housing design. BedZED is now nearing completion, with the first residents moving in.

Sustainable solutions

Apart from producing no net CO2 from energy use and using no fossil fuels, BedZED addresses a range of environmental, social, and economic concerns. For example, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber and reclaimed steel were used for construction. In addition, most construction materials were sourced within a 60km radius of the site, reducing pollution and environmental damage by minimizing freight transport. BedZed workerOak weatherboarding sourced from local, managed woodlands© BioRegional, UKBedZED derives all its energy from renewable sources. The homes are highly energy efficient: heating is reduced by 90 per cent and total energy consumption by 70 per cent compared to conventional homes. The development also incorporates combined heat and power generation as well as state-of-the art photovoltaics for solar electricity. In addition, a solar electric car pool has been set up for use by the householders.

The development harvests rainwater, uses water-saving appliances and systems, and recycles sewage water through a reedbed "Living Machine". Household waste is also recycled.

The homes are for sale at comparable prices to conventional houses in the area, with 60 per cent of the homes retained by The Peabody Trust for people on low incomes. By using local materials, the project has supported local economic development and at the same time created a number of new jobs related to maintaining the water treatment systems, power plant, woodchip supply, car pool, and local food deliveries. In addition the eco-village will have a range of community facilities such as a healthy living centre, sports club and playing fields, village square, crèche, and café.

South African project

As a result of the success of this pilot project, WWF, BioRegional, and Bill Dunster Architects have teamed up with the Midrand EcoCity Project and a number of business partners† to make a twin BedZED in South Africa. The "Zero Energy Development" (ZED), located in Ivory Park in the Johannesburg area, has the full support and involvement of the local community, which has land and planning permission for an eco-village development of 30 homes and a community centre.

Working with South African architects and engineers, the ZED team will adapt the design strategies for application in South Africa. The aim is to build low cost, very high environmental performance buildings that reduce energy needs, maximize on-site opportunities for renewable energy, and minimize water consumption. The project will also include water recycling facilities. The returns from energy efficiency and renewable energy are particularly great in South Africa, where electricity supplied by the national grid is generated by inefficient and polluting coal-fired installations.

This is just the beginning of what could prove to be a worldwide housing revolution. The existing partners are interested in rolling out the concept, initially at a regional level and subsequently developing a series of twinning projects across the globe. The future is ZED!

Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud is Head of Business and Industry Relations at WWF International, and Pooran Desai is Director of the BioRegional Development Group. This article was reproduced with kind permission by WWF International.

Related links:The BioRegional Development Group

Midrand EcoCity Project

WWF International