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Last edited 26 Nov 2020
A measure of net well-being that incorporates the effect of housing environmental impacts
This paper presents a new method of measuring well-being which incorporates environmental performance. Existing data on well-being data and the environmental performance of UK social housing are used to demonstrate how the measure could be used. It is intended that the measure be used to maximise human well-being whilst ensuring that resource use remains within environmental constraints. The demonstration shows that at least eight different research themes are required to completely enable this measure.
The purpose of this paper is to present a measure of well-being that can be used to steer government policy. The background section will explain why this is necessary. The overall concept will then be introduced in the well-being measure section. Finally a worked example, complete with methodology, relating to the environmental impacts of social housing will be presented to illustrate the concept. It should be noted that the proposed well-being measure is not restricted to environmental impacts or social housing. This particular example has been chosen because the effect of environmental impacts on wide scale well-being (i.e. on people other than building occupiers) is rarely explored.
There are no universally accepted definitions of well-being. Those definitions that do exist assess only the well-being of a particular group without incorporating negative impacts on others’ well-being. Furthermore, government policy tends to convert well-being and environmental data into financial measures, in order to inform policy.
This section will give two examples of how well-being and environmental measures are converted to financial measures in order to inform government policy. It will then show why well-being ought to be the indicator of government success and how financial and environmental measures can be converted into well-being measures.
Another example is NCH, (2012), where well-being is reported as health benefits which lead to potential health care savings (~£700,000 per year). In both cases the well-being is “converted” into a financial metric, which is used to influence government policy on well-being.
Example 2. The environmental impacts of UK housing are understood to the level that environmental standards, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes (CLG, 2010), have been introduced. Chief amongst these is the carbon emissions arising from homes which amount to 68 million tonnes (Defra, 2013). Treasury has made an attempt to convert carbon emissions into a financial figure, currently £28/tonne (Defra, 2007), for policy purposes.
From the above, it can be seen that well-being and environmental metrics are converted into financial metrics in order to steer government policy. This can lead to perversions where well- being actions are not carried out because of cost. However, world governments recognise that they need to maximize well-being as decreed in the OECD Istanbul Declaration, to which the European Commission is a signatory (OECD, 2007). Evidently, a direct measure of well-being is needed into which financial and environmental metrics can be converted. The means to do this is presented in the next section.
Proposed well-being measure
The proposed measure is this: “the degree to which human needs are met (%)”. Expanding on this idea will clarify it.
Firstly, what are human needs? For this measure it is proposed that human needs, as described by Maslow (1943), are used. These have been widely accepted and briefly are: basic needs; security needs; social needs; esteem needs and self-actualisation needs.
So, for example, if 100% of the world’s population had 100% of their needs met, then this would be a measure of complete success for the world’s governments. Similarly, if 30% of the world’s population had 100% of their needs met, with the remaining 70% only have 50% of them met, then it can be clearly seen that global efforts should be directed towards improving the lot of the unfulfilled 70% of the population.
Now to expand on how environmental impacts can be incorporated into this measure of well- being. Humans depend on their environment to survive and thrive. Over-exploitation of resources will deprive people of the means to meet their basic needs such as food and water (Hassan, 2005). Similarly pollution, particularly greenhouse gases, will deny other people the means to provide for their basic needs through drought or flooding. Unfortunately, those that are set to suffer from environmental over-exploitation or pollution are not necessarily those that cause it. Closer to home (UK), water security is becoming a pressing issue (Environment Agency, 2009), as is fuel security (DECC, 2012 ). The Millennium Assessment (Hassan, 2005) as well as KJell (2011), recognise the ability of the natural world to satisfy other higher well- being needs. In short, the environment in which we live provides satisfaction of many needs. It is therefore vital that the extent to which these needs are satisfied by the natural world are quantified in terms of the well-being they bring and thus, are managed accordingly.
A short note on wealth and finance. Amongst others, Helliwell (2013) identified that wealth and well-being correlate to an extent. Beyond that extent, increased wealth does not necessarily bring increased well-being. Thus, it is proposed that wealth and finance be used as one tool amongst many to achieve 100% well-being, rather than serving as the default measure.
There are distinct advantages of using the proposed well-being measure. Firstly it is scalable and can be used for any size group of humans: from the individual level to the macro - organisation, project, local authority, national government, even the entire planet. It is an objective, quantitative measure: it is not value based, therefore it is non-judgemental and is not biased towards any particular culture. It enables management of the environment for the long- term benefit of humans and not for its own sake.
The main disadvantage is that the methodology is in its infancy. Much work needs to be done to develop the measure into a credible and workable methodology. The areas of research necessary are listed in the further research section. However, this should not be a detriment to its development because 100% well-being is a stated aim of the OECD Istanbul Declaration signatories.
Despite its infancy the subject area is not entirely unexplored. For example, WWF (2012) reference environmental impacts against human development and well-being. Clarke (2004) used Maslow’s ideas to measure well-being and Brundtland (UNWCED, 1987) clearly explains the connection between needs and sustainable development. The novel aspect of this paper is to provide a universal measure of well-being.
Methodology of a worked example
Secondly, detail on environmental impacts of social housing was taken from the SHIFT data set (Sustainable Homes, 2012). This dataset is collected bi-annually from social landlords wishing to benchmark and improve the environmental performance of their stock.
Thirdly, data was sought which would enable conversion of environmental impacts. This was not necessarily a rigorous search as data in the correct format was not always available. The intention was to provide figures which could be used to illustrate the concept.
|Basic||No specific data, but it has been assumed that 100% of UK inhabitants have their basic needs (food, water, etc) satisfied|
|Security||No specific mention of security of supply of basic needs. However, it is assumed for this work that supply is 100% secure for the UK. Separately, crime rates against the person were quoted as 76 out of 1,000, equating to 92.4 % security.|
|Social||70% were satisfied with their social life.|
|Esteem||80.7% gave a medium/high rating of how worthwhile the things they do are, which has been interpreted as high self-esteem for this work|
|Self- actualisation||60.9% somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their amount of leisure time. For this paper it has been assumed that time to pursue leisure correlates with levels of self-actualisation|
100% of basic needs met x weighting* (0.5) =
100 x 0.5 =
92.4% of security needs met x weighting (0.25) =
92.4 x 0.25 =
70% of social needs met x weighting (0.1) =
70 x 0.1 =
80.7% of esteem needs met x weighting (0.1) =
80.7 x 0.1 =
60.9% of self-actualisation needs met x weighting (0.05) =
61.0 x 0.05 =
(*)Weightings are introduced because some of the levels of needs are more important than others in proportion to the increase in well-being. Clarke (Clarke,2004) felt that the weightings were value judgements. However, a simple study by this author found that these are measurable and produced these weightings. The topic is an area of suggested further research.
The SHIFT data represented 522,000 thousand homes throughout the UK, roughly 1,250,000 people at 2.4 people per home. The environmental impacts for this SHIFT group were found to be those listed in table 2 below.
|Carbon emissions from homes||SAP is a measure of energy efficiency of a home. Average SAP rating was 71. The SAP rating is loosely correlated to carbon emissions and a figure of 4.1 tonnes per homes per year has been used for this illustration = 2,140,200 tonnes (author’s work).|
|Water usage due to installed water fittings||145 litres per person per day (lpd)|
|Household recycling rate (dependent on installed internal recycling bins)||
8.8% of homes had internal recycling bins. WRAP (WRAP, 2008) data suggests that recycling rates improve by 19% where internal recycling bins are present. This would imply that homes represented by the SHIFT process recycle 8.8 x 19 more than the average UK waste rate of 42.8% (ONS, 2013) = 44.47% recycling. Average waste arisings is 423 kgs per person (Defra, 2013). 52% of UK purchases are ethical (Utalkmarketing). So assuming that waste arisings are the same as purchases, then 48%, (203kg) is unethical. 44.47% of this is recycled leaving 113 kgs of unethically purchased and wasted materials per person =41,250 tonnes for this study.
Assume 100% of eaten food is eventually recycled at sewage treatment.
|Ecological enhancement||7.7 % of homes had some sort of ecological enhancement.|
|Carbon due to transport||1.7 tonnes per capita (Decc, 2013), so 2,125,000 tonnes for this population.|
Table 3 below shows how the environmental impacts can be converted into well-being impacts and the rationale for doing so. These are in terms of the most basic impacts only, but future versions of this methodology could also include how higher needs are affected. For example destruction of a rainforest may reduce the ability of humans to satisfy their self-actualisation needs if they find these forests inspirational.
|Water||The Environment Agency (Environment Agency, 2009) has calculated that domestic water consumption needs to be 130 lpd by 2030 in order to cope with projected lower rainfalls. Therefore, for this work, each 130 lpd over 130 lpd denies 1 person sufficient water in the UK.|
|Waste||Assuming that violent conflicts are essentially struggles for resources, analysis of these two sources (EIA Countries) indicates that for every 10,000 tonnes of materials unethically purchased and then wasted there is 1 person denied their basic needs.|
A very loose interpretation of the Millenium Assessment indicates that around 75% of the worlds ecosystems are used to provide basic services for humans. This means that 25% ought to be left as biodiverse areas for the benefit of humans (UNEP)
There should therefore be 0.45ha (25% of 1.8 ha) of biodiversity in the housing stock for every person. Gardens may be around 80m2 each which means each 0.45ha is equivalent to 56 gardens. For every 56 gardens with no biodiversity, 1 other person is being deprived of this necessity.
In the case of the SHIFT there are 522,000 homes with only 7.7% of these with ecological enhancement. This leaves 481,806 with no biodiversity. Divided by 56 leaves 8,604 people denied basic needs offered by bio-diversity.
Combining the information from tables 2 and 3 we can see that:
|Impact||No. of people denied basic needs|
|Carbon (home and transport) emissions potentially cause 4,265,200 / 600||7,109|
|Water emissions potentially cause (145-130)/130 x 1,250,000||144,231|
|Wasted materials potentially cause (141,250 tonnes/10,000 tonnes)||14|
According to Maslow, in general, people must satisfy basic needs before they can satisfy higher needs, so if basic needs are not met, no other needs can be met and hence 100% of well-being is denied.
So, for the SHIFT population we can say:
1.00 = 988,792 Normalised for the number of people = 79.1% net well-being for this population.
To some extent the conclusion above seems obvious. However, it is a conclusion that is not arrived at by measuring financial or environmental outcomes alone. In addition, the well-being measure allows policy makers to quantify and hence manage well-being directly.
The proposed methodology is novel and many areas of research present themselves. For instance, as shown in the ONS data above, not all the required data is collected. Suggested data for each level of need are listed below in order to present ideas for further research:
Basic – calorie intake, clean water availability, air cleanliness, nutritious diet
Social – how many people individuals are in contact with regularly
Self-actualisation – hours in a day available to pursue meaningful interests – most likely survey questions
The weightings between levels also need to be established. Maslow stated that these are human needs, valid for all humans regardless of culture or values. It is therefore proposed that the weightings must also be constant for humans. It is suggested that cross-cultural sociological studies are conducted to establish these weightings.
A new method of measuring well-being is presented. It converts detrimental environmental impacts into effects on well-being for people other than the occupiers of building. Hence, it unifies social and environmental factors, thus allowing holistic policy making and well-being management.
- CLG, Code for Sustainable Homes, Technical Guide, Department for Communities and Local Government
- DECC (2012), Energy Security Strategy, The Stationery Office Limited
- DECC (2013, Local Authority CO2 emissions estimates 2011, Department of Energy and Climate Change
- Defra (2007), The Social Cost Of Carbon And The Shadow Price Of Carbon: What They Are, And How To Use Them In Economic Appraisal In The UK,
- Defra (2007), Statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England in 2012/13
- Defra (2013), Official Statistics Release: UK's Carbon Footprint 1997 – 2011
- Environment Agency (2009), Water for people and the environment
- Fujiwara, D (2013), The social impacts of housing providers, HACT
- Hassan, R , Scholes, R, Ash, N, (2005), Ecosystems and human well-being : current state and trends : findings ofthe Condition and Trends Working Group, chapter 5, 2005
- Helliwell, John F., Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs, eds. 2013. World Happiness Report 2013. New York: UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
- Kjell, O.N.E (2011), Sustainable Well-Being: A Potential Synergy Between Sustainability and Well-Being Research, Review of General Psychology, Vo1 15, No. 3, 255-266
- Clarke, M, Peach, S (2004), The measurement of well-being based on hierarchical needs: A multidimensional approach applied to south-east Asia, Paper Prepared for the 28th General Conference of The International Association for Research in Income and Wealth Cork, Ireland, August 22-28, 2004
- Clarkson, R and Deyes K, (2002), Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon Emissions, Government Economic Service Working Paper 140, H.M. Treasury
- Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
- NCH (2012), Nottingham City Homes, Decent Homes Impact Study: The effects of Secure Warm Modern Homes in Nottingham
- OECD, (2007). Istanbul Declaration, Second OECD World Forum on "Statistics, Knowledge and Policy", Measuring and Fostering the Progress of Societies
- ONS, (2013). National Well-being, September 2013 release, Office of National Statistics
- Sustainable Homes, (2013), The review, UK social landlords – environmental performance 2012/13
- UNWCED: United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future (Brundtland Report). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- WRAP (2008), Barriers to recycling at home, Waste & Resources Action Programme
- WWF, (2012). Living Planet Report 2012, WWF International, Gland, Switzerland
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