This European project represents an example of a public-private partnership between social housing organisations and building companies, technical organizations and public decision-makers to demonstrate the feasibility of sustainable housing for communities. SHE focuses on motivating people to live in a sustainable manner, raising awareness amongst all building stakeholders about the environmental, economical and social benefits of sustainable social homes, and evaluating users’ satisfaction. The partnership is demonstrating an integrated and replicable approach to the construction of sustainable housing for all social groups by making the extraordinary ordinary. To date, 600 families in Denmark, France, Italy and Portugal are living in sustainable dwellings.


Project Description

Aims and Objectives

The main objectives of the SHE project are to move towards an everyday practice of sustainability and closer participation of residents in the social housing sector, as well as meeting the challenge of moving the good practice already identified into the mainstream i.e. from the ‘extraordinary’ to the ‘ordinary’. The project seeks to promote a realistic approach towards sustainable housing that can be more easily accepted and understood and hence more widely used.


Although there are many examples of good practice developed by housing providers throughout Europe, environmentally sustainable construction methods are still far from widely used. The European Union has funded a range of programmes to develop good practice in this field (SAVE, ALTERNER, CONCERTO etc) but there has been comparatively little transfer of the good practice identified and developed through these programmes. There is still little use of whole-life costing methods, which balance economic costs with environmental as well as social benefits and short-term costing is still the order of the day.

Project details

SHE is a five-year demonstration project, co-funded by the European Commission (EC), to encourage the development of sustainable homes in France, Italy, Denmark and Portugal. These countries were chosen to reflect the different social, economic and climatic conditions of northern and southern Europe. The EC is co-funding 200 social housing units (50 in each of the four countries) and the eight collaborating social housing cooperatives are providing in total a further 400 dwellings built to the same standards, without any additional financial support. A typical range of social housing is provided, including single family houses and apartments in both urban and rural locations. The social housing co-operatives in each of the four countries work together with local scientific partners, residents and local authorities to develop appropriate designs.

Energy saving is achieved with low-consumption heating and cooling systems, thermal storage, exterior wall systems and high insulation levels. Passive cooling techniques and active and passive solar systems are also used to reduce energy consumption to a level that is at least 20 per cent below the current national level (i.e. there is no one set standard that all countries have to achieve, but rather the emphasis is on moving towards improved energy performance).

Ensuring the continuous participation of the stakeholders, including the residents, throughout the construction process is an important part of the programme, as is raising awareness of the benefits of sustainable housing and promoting sustainable approaches in local and national policies. Developing practical guidelines with technical, economic and managerial recommendations for social housing providers is included in the programme to encourage the long-term transfer of the approaches.

The participation process is an essential part of the project. Experience varies between the countries reflecting a range of different levels of interaction, from information to cooperation. In Denmark, where there is extensive tenant representation at board level, any decisions regarding development, design and management are made with the full involvement of residents. The residents actually living in the dwellings are also consulted if possible. In France representatives of tenants’ associations are brought together at the early stages to identify tenants’ needs and expectations and to help define priorities. In Italy and Portugal there is participation throughout the development process with the future cooperative owners. A dwelling manual for each project has been developed in collaboration with residents to ensure ease of understanding, using colours, pictures, and practical examples, as well as underlining the clear links between users’ actions and the environmental and economic impact.  In all of the individual projects, meetings have been held with residents after they have moved in to explain the long-term energy saving purpose of the project and how to maximise their personal energy and cost savings.

Covering costs

The EC has provided €3.5 million (US$5.09 million) to fund the SHE project. This budget includes 35 per cent of the extra capital cost related to the sustainability features of the projects. The land and construction costs, as well as the other 65 per cent of the sustainability features, are met by the social housing cooperatives themselves using regular funding sources that include their own reserves, fundraising activity or grants obtained from the relevant local or national authorities. Current practice shows that the standards promoted through the project are already being accepted by the social housing cooperatives and no additional future revenue funding will be needed from the EC.

Capital costs of construction are typically five to nine per cent higher for the SHE projects compared to standard housing construction for that organisation. Although the extra capital cost of construction is reflected in higher rents (Denmark and France) or purchase costs (Italy and Portugal), this is more than compensated for over time by the reduction in fuel costs. For example, in Denmark the monthly rent, including heating, for an 80m2 SHE dwelling is €787 (US$1,144) compared to €800 (US$1,163) in a standard construction dwelling of the same size. This difference will become more marked as the cost of energy increases.


  • Increased use of the technologies by social housing providers and other providers in the local areas, both in the social housing and for-profit sectors, thereby saving energy. The cost of energy has been reduced with an opportunity for greater thermal comfort – both heating and cooling.  An increase in resident satisfaction has been reported in both owners and tenants.
  • A wider understanding of the environmental issues both within the social housing organisations, as well as other local stakeholders. Changes in local building regulations have taken place, enabling greater use of sustainable construction methods.
  • In Italy, local authorities have decided to implement the new building regulations with higher environmental standards. In the Pesaro Municipality, regulations have been amended in respect of sustainability and participation and the local technical SHE partner has been asked to prepare a manual on Sustainable Buildings. In Preganziol there has been a change to the local building code to allow roof slopes that will accommodate solar panels.
  • Federabitazione has vigorously promoted the inclusion of sustainable housing and urban management amongst its 3,500 members and created a network of social housing cooperatives for sustainability, members of which are committed to building at least 20 per cent better than typical energy and water consumption standards. It has also been invited to be part of a national advisory group looking at energy certification and incentives to encourage sustainable construction practices.
  • The Portuguese partners have introduced increased sustainability standards for all their members, initially on a voluntary basis.
  • New standards for low energy houses have been developed by the Danish government in response to the SHE work (inter alia) and these will be launched in 2008. It has also established a working group to look at barriers to sustainable construction and two representatives of the SHE organisations are on this group.


Why is it innovative?

  • A particular focus on transferring existing technologies and methodologies among social housing providers rather than on the development of new technologies.
  • The focus on involving residents, as well as designers, local authorities, other public bodies and construction firms in the design, development and use of the dwellings.
  • Development of minimum standards with good water and energy saving criteria, rather than requiring very high standards that can only be applied by very few providers and are thus rejected as being unaffordable or too aspirational.
  • Development of standards based on an iterative process between scientific partners and the social housing providers to ensure they are understandable and operational.
  • Ability of teams of technical and non-technical persons to work together and overcome the challenges faced.


What is the environmental impact?

The SHE project aims to increase awareness about environmental concerns amongst a broad group of stakeholders and to demonstrate a realistic approach to living sustainability in the social housing sector. Although environmentally friendly construction materials have been used whenever possible, with re-use of components and recycling of construction waste materials, the standards most keenly promoted focus on day to day energy saving and more responsible water consumption.

Reductions in energy use are achieved with low-consumption heating and cooling systems, thermal storage, exterior wall systems and high insulation levels. Passive cooling techniques and active and passive solar systems are used to reduce energy consumption. The need for artificial lighting is also reduced through design. Simulation shows that there will be a 20 – 40 per cent energy saving on heating, a 100 per cent energy saving on cooling and a 20 per cent saving on water consumption. Early monitoring results have shown however that the actual savings were not as high as the predicted ones and these discrepancies are currently being addressed. One major reason for this discrepancy is the way residents use their homes, so additional training has been provided in how energy and water saving can be maximised. Water consumption is reduced with low-flow taps and toilets, together with conservation of clean water and rainwater harvesting. Canalisation systems are used to slow down rainwater infiltration, as are green paving and roofing systems.


Is it financially sustainable?

The grant aid from the European Commission will cease in 2008 as planned. Future funding will not be needed as the benefits will have been demonstrated through this programme, the transfer of ideas and approaches will have begun and other social housing providers will be able to use the guidelines developed.

Rental payments are lower than would otherwise be the case, due to lower energy costs, helping to make the housing more affordable. This effect will become more pronounced as conventional energy prices continue to increase.


What is the social impact?

Residents and social housing providers, as well as other local stakeholders have a greater awareness and understanding of a range of environmental issues and have developed the ability to work well together. Both technical and non-technical housing cooperative staff have greatly increased their understanding through the opportunity to exchange experience and learn from each other and the team of technicians guiding the project.

All the social housing organisations involved are established on cooperative principles and thus have a commitment to encouraging participation and involvement of their residents through the democratic processes that are part of the cooperative housing system. Residents’ involvement throughout all stages of the projects has helped to establish stronger links between those living in the project buildings.

The projects have increased the health and safety of the residents:

  • Increased energy efficiency and subsequent reduction in heating costs has improved the affordability of heating the home. This has led to improved thermal comfort and a reduction in health problems caused by excessive cold and heat.
  • The SHE project has used no toxic construction materials and has reduced electric and electromagnetic fields helping to provide a healthier living space.
  • Project designs provide safe walking / cycling routes and do not make provision for cars in common spaces.


  • In some countries, finding the extra cost was very difficult, but was overcome with financial support from local authorities.
  • Since the SHE project is pioneering new ways of construction, various exemptions from the existing building regulations were needed in some instances, which led to delays.
  • Difficulties in understanding the technical aspects of environmental sustainability were overcome with the provision of training by Federabitazione Europe for both stakeholders and residents.
  • Residents were usually only interested in those aspects which led to an immediate payback, and this was addressed through discussion and training on the wider environmental issues.
  • The social housing cooperatives recognised that although they incurred the extra capital cost, the revenue savings went to their residents in lower energy bills.
  • Residents do not always use their homes in the way that design criteria anticipate, so additional training has been provided for residents in how energy and water saving can be maximised.

Lessons Learned

  • Setting realistic objectives and having an iterative process to develop the guidelines for the sustainable dwellings have been essential to focus the efforts on the activities that bring about the greatest impact.
  • For participation with residents to be effective, it is vital to involve them at the earliest possible stage (design brief) and to use design teams who have the willingness and necessary skills to work well with residents.
  • The awareness raising activities with local authorities and building companies could be extremely challenging and time consuming but were usually successful.
  • A one-year monitoring timescale for the performance of the dwellings and the satisfaction of the users will not be sufficient and has therefore been extended.
  • Team working is vital to overcome technical as well as non-technical resistance to doing things differently.
  • An occupancy review is essential in order to assess the operation of the building post-occupancy and to understand how the building performs compared to expectations. Adjustments can then be made to future designs.



The information gathered through the monitoring activities is being used to examine the efficiency of the different approaches and to increase the knowledge and the awareness of the cooperatives regarding the use of innovative tools that can be applied in future projects. Physical monitoring relates to microclimate, building envelope, energy consumption and production, indoor comfort and use of water resources. A new tool, the “Sustainable Economic Tool” is currently being tested. The tool uses whole-life costing and an analysis of externalities, including environmental and social factors, to give a more comprehensive analysis and the opportunity to evaluate the benefits from the point of view of different stakeholders.



The main purpose of the project is to encourage replication and the impact on the building sector and social housing organisations is already visible. All SHE promoting organisations are now using these methods for their other developments. In Italy it is anticipated that a further 1,000 such dwellings will be completed in the next two years. In Denmark, 69 further dwellings have been completed to date.

Some of the pilot projects have created a domino effect in their local areas. In Denmark, two other housing providers near the project are now building to SHE standards and have built 135 houses to date. In Teramo, Italy new housing being built adjacent to a SHE project has introduced even higher standards for water reduction and both developments are being used by the local municipality as best practices for other housing organisations to learn from. Building companies working with the SHE projects are also sharing the experience gained with other designers and companies they work with.

In Italy, the SHE promoter has established a network of social housing coops for sustainability, the members of which are committed to producing all new buildings with energy consumption of at least 20 per cent less than the current national thermal regulations.

On an international level SHE partners and scientific experts are working within relevant networks to share the knowledge gained, including with the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing (CECODHAS), the Sustainable Urban Development European Network (SUDEN), Construction and City Related Sustainability Indicators (CRISP), Raising Citizens and Stakeholders Acceptance and Use of New Regional and Urban Sustainability Approaches in Europe (RAISE). SHE was asked to give evidence to the Welsh Assembly, which is currently seeking to reduce carbon emissions from residential housing in Wales.