Sustainable Design Templates in the UK, France and Denmark

Project Overview

“Sustainable Design Templates” focused on innovations in the refurbishment of social housing and on the dynamic relation between standards and innovation. Particular attention was paid both to the way in which innovative products, processes and services are developed and incorporated into refurbishment projects, and to the role of professional guidelines and certification schemes in supporting those innovations. The study was part of an international comparative project exploring the relation between standards and innovation. Cases of innovation in England were compared with those in France, to better assess the effect of national standards and markets on the development and diffusion of innovations in the social housing sector.

The research examined three projects which were seen to be innovative by the design and project teams involved in their development. The UK cases were taken from architects, local authorities and Registered Social Landlords (RSL s) known for their leadership in this area, and from “Retrofit for the Future” award winners. Research involved interviews with as many of the different actors involved in the project as possible, including the design team, specialist engineers, project managers, contractors, housing associations, local authorities and residents .


The UK Climate Act (2008) calls for a reduction of carbon emissions by 80% by 2080, relative to a 1999 base line. In the past few years, policy makers in the UK have woken up to the central role which the refurbishment of existing housing must play in meeting these ambitious carbon reduction targets. Policy makers and professionals alike recognise the need for significant innovation in this area. ‘Retrofit for the Future’ projects were explicitly selected by the TSB for their innovative character and commercial potential.

Key Objectives

The aims of the research were:

  • To explore the effect of policy tools, certification schemes and other standards on projects known for innovation in the area of social housing refurbishment.
  • To trace the development, adoption and use of specific innovations, as defined by the design team and project team.
  • To trace the effect of those innovations on 'best practice' and on business as usual, as evidenced in specific projects.
  • To explore the conditions facilitating the development, uptake and diffusion of specific innovative elements and process.
  • To use national comparisons to identify the effect of market, regulatory and policy contexts on the retrofit in social housing.


Industry partners

Select Retrofit for the Future prize winners

Academic partners
University of Reading (project leader)

Copenhagen Business School

MINES ParisTech

Research Outputs

Conference papers

Schweber, L, Taylor, M and Sexton, M (2011), “Innovation as collective experimentation: the role of architectural competitions in institutionally grounded innovation”, Symposium: Sustainable Construction in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Innovation, Standards and Institutionalization, Academy of Management, August 12-16.

Associated Staff


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