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Decarbonising real estate: The evolving relationship between energy efficiency and housing in Europe

Sara Jane Wilkinson (School of Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Sarah Sayce (University of Reading Henley Business School, Reading, UK)

Journal of European Real Estate Research

ISSN: 1753-9269

Article publication date: 14 April 2020

Issue publication date: 5 December 2020




About 27 per cent of the total UK carbon emissions are attributed to residential buildings; therefore, improvements to the energy efficiency of the stock offers great potential. There are three main ways to achieve this. First is a mandatory approach, minimum energy efficiency standards are set and applied to new and existing buildings. Option 2 is voluntary, using energy ratings that classify performance to stimulate awareness and action. Third, financial measures, incentives and taxes, are applied to “nudge” behaviours. Most westernised countries have adopted a combination of Options 2 and 3, with the belief that the market will incentivize efficient properties. The belief is voluntary measures will stimulate demand, leading to value premiums. This paper aims to seek a deeper understanding of the relationship between energy efficiency and the value of residential property in Europe and, by so doing, to determine whether stronger policies are required to realise decarbonisation.


This paper reviews the current academic literature and large-scale quantitative studies conducted in Europe, mostly using hedonic pricing analysis to seek a relationship between energy performance certificates (EPCs) and either capital or rental values. It compares these to the reported findings of three case study projects that take a variety of different research approaches, all of which have the ambition to understand market behaviours and stimulate occupier or/and owner demand for energy efficient buildings.


The large-scale academic study results generally show a positive relationship between observed market prices and EPCs, which are commonly taken as surrogates for efficiency; however, outcomes are variable. One large study found energy upgrades may increase value, but not to the point where costs outweigh the value gain. Other studies found high returns on investment in energy efficiency technologies. The case study projects, however, revealed a more nuanced set of arguments in terms of the relationship between energy efficiency and market behaviours. Whilst there is some evidence that energy efficiency is beginning to impact on value, it is small compared to other value drivers; other drivers, including health, well-being and private sector finance deals, may prove more powerful market drivers. Further, the empirical findings reported point towards the emergence of a “brown” discount being more likely to be the long-term trend than a green premium. It is concluded that the current levels of action are unlikely to deliver the levels of decarbonisation urgently needed.

Research limitations/implications

This is a desktop study of other European studies that may have collected data on slightly different variables.

Practical implications

This study shows that more action is required to realise decarbonisation in new and existing residential property in the European states considered. The sector offers potential for substantial reductions, and other mandatory approaches need to be considered.


This is a timely review of the current outcomes of European programmes (EPCs) adopted in several countries to increase energy efficiency in the residential sector through a voluntary mechanism. The results show that more action is needed.



Wilkinson, S.J. and Sayce, S. (2020), "Decarbonising real estate: The evolving relationship between energy efficiency and housing in Europe", Journal of European Real Estate Research, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 387-408.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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