Carbon Co-op

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" Carbon Co-op, which launched in 2011, is one of a new generation of co-ops that are now aiming to address the critical issue of climate change by making houses more energy-efficient, which in turn will slash carbon emissions and in the long-run save homeowners money.

"The UK has a legally binding target for cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 1990 baseline," says Carbon Co-op's Jonathan Atkinson.

"At the same time, escalating fuel bills are leading to more and more people experiencing fuel poverty. Consequently we're aiming high and offering packages of retrofit improvements to householders that will cut both energy bills and carbon emissions."

Atkinson doesn't underestimate the scale of the problem facing the country.

"The UK has 26m homes which need to be made more energy-efficient. If we are to meet the 2050 target then we need to be retrofitting at least one million homes a year."

Traditionally, tackling home energy-efficiency has been characterised by random, single actions such as installing low-energy light bulbs or fitting loft insulation.

"We take the whole house approach to retrofitting and recommend a package of complementary measures such as wall and loft insulation that will improve the energy performance of a house," says Atkinson. "And because we have a strong ethical strand to our work, we aim to source materials from local businesses such as highly energy-efficient windows from the Green Building Store in West Yorkshire."

So what's the key benefit of operating as a co-op in this sector? "The big issue in the retrofitting industry is that of trust," replies Atkinson.

"The big energy companies dominate the energy-efficiency market because they are forced to by Ofgem, the energy regulator. However, very few people trust the big energy companies any more because of the recent mis-selling scandals." He says people are increasingly suspicious of energy companies trying to sell them big-scale changes, thinking that all the companies want is for their bills to increase.

"As a co-op, we're community orientated and householder-owned with no external shareholders," says Atkinson.

The issue of trust is a very real concern to householders, as Ruth Rosselson agrees. "We wanted to get the retrofit work done years ago but didn't know where to go, who to trust or what to get done," she says. "Carbon Co-op has been extremely knowledgeable and we trust that the work is being done for wider environmental benefits rather than just for profit."

Currently running pilot projects in Greater Manchester, Carbon Co-op has ambitions to roll out its services across the UK.

The Birmingham-based Energy Saving Co-op, which like Carbon Co-op launched in 2011, has similar ambitions to be a national player in the energy-efficiency retrofit market.

"We've already retrofitted 50 homes with a target of completing 600 homes by the end of the year, two thousand homes in 2014 and a plan to eventually operate nationally," says the chief executive and co-founder Ewan Jones, who aims to fund this expansion programme through its current share offer.

Financing the retrofit ambitions of both Carbon Co-op and the Energy Saving Co-op is a major challenge though both co-ops and the wider co-op movement are set to benefit from the green deal, the government's flagship programme to make millions of homes more energy-efficient, which was launched this year.

Essentially a type of personal loan where you pay for the work over time through your energy bill, the green deal is set to kickstart the energy-efficiency market – and co-ops and social enterprises are lining up to take a slice of the action.

The Energy Saving Co-op, for example, is now working with a number of co-ops which will act as green deal energy assessors including Energywise, a new Birmingham co-op and the Jericho Foundation, a social enterprise which will install the energy saving kit." (http://socialenterprise.guardian.co.uk/social-enterprise-network/2013/apr/29/energy-coops-cutting-household-bills-carbon)