EcoHouse Antwerp - Fighting poverty and unemployment while reaching city climate targets


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Status

ongoing

Icons use case study city info

City

Antwerp

Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

City Government, Regional Government, National Government, Public Utility, other

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

Icons use case study duration

Duration

Ongoing since 2015

Antwerp is running an advice and demonstration centre for residents to improve energy efficiency of homes.

EcoHouse is an advice and demonstration centre for sustainable building and living run by the city of Antwerp. The center is working with Levanto, a social economy association, to combat energy poverty and provide opportunities for disadvantaged groups to gain skills and work experience in the green economy.

Levanto conducts energy audits, and offers both short and long term solutions to low income households for saving energy and money. Short term solutions include advice on how to change behaviour to save energy. For more advanced solutions, EcoHouse prepares a personalised plan for investing in energy saving infrastructure. EcoHouse can also help low income households find and negotiate with contractors and coordinate the works to implement these solutions.

The work experience placements organised by Levanto include a customised education component and an on-the-job training with a personal trainer. After working for Levanto for one year, the employees are assisted in finding another job that fits their qualifications and interests. In 2014 20,737 audits were carried out ; Levanto helps 1,970 people annually to strengthen their employability. In the beginning it was difficult to reach the target group of low income households with the programme of energy saving measures. Offering easy to implement solutions that bring immediate gains helped attract interest.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/353-green-web_final.pdf

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
City
Antwerp, Belgium

Size and population development
510,610 (as of 2014); most populous city in Flanders

Main functions
Third port in Europe,

Main industries / business
Trade, chemical industry and oil refinery

Political structure
The 55 representatives seating in the City Council are directly elected every six years

Administrative structure
The municipality is divided into nine districts. The municipality of Antwerp is made of the city of Antwerp itself, as well as several other towns

In Antwerp 17.5% of the city’s population is unemployed or economically inactive with low skills and poor prospects of finding a job. Energy costs are increasingly becoming a burden for many households in Antwerp. Outdated appliances or delayed renovation mean that poorer households are often in a worse condition. Reducing energy consumption and improving the energy performance of buildings can benefit household finances and the environment. The city needs to work with all residents on its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050, and vulnerable groups may require special assistance if they lack sufficient financial resources to invest in energy efficiency measures in their homes.

EcoHouse is an advice and demonstration centre for sustainable building and living run by the city of Antwerp. It is open to the general public, with a substantive part of its work focused on more vulnerable groups. EcoHouse in partnership with Levanto, a social economy association, conducts energy audits using trained staff on work experience placement, and offers both short and long term solutions for saving energy and money.

The short term solutions include:

  • advice on how to change behaviour to save energy, and
  • free installation of simple energy saving products such as energy saving light bulbs. 

For more advanced solutions EcoHouse prepares a personalised plan for investing in energy saving infrastructure, which is based on the energy audit. For example, installing roof insulation or new energy efficient heating devices. It then provides support to residents in implementing these solutions.

Low income households that would not qualify for a loan at a commercial bank can also receive a special zero interest loan. EcoHouse can help them find and negotiate with contractors and coordinate the works. These services are offered to people on low income, and social assistance recipients; be they home owners or tenants.

The work experience placements organised by Levanto, in partnership with Antwerp’s grid operators, are reserved for people who have been unemployed for at least one year and either did not attend or did not finish high school. They receive an individual training programme for the first six months to strengthen their chances on the open labour market. The programme comprises of two equal parts; on-the-job training with a personal trainer, and a customised education component based on the individual’s aspirations, interests, qualifications and preferences, which also includes obligatory classes. On passing the required technical tests they are able to carry out energy audits without the trainer.

After working for Levanto for one year, the employees are assisted in finding another job that fits their qualifications and interests.

The project receives financial support from the Flemish regional government’s department of social economy under the ‘energy savers’ programme for employing vulnerable people in energy saving social enterprises. Antwerp’s grid operators, Eandis and Infrax also provide financial support to the project, since Flemish law obliges these companies to help people, mainly vulnerable groups save energy by providing services and grants. The Belgian federal government funds the zero interest loans through the Fund for Energy Saving. The city of Antwerp coordinates the project and administers the loans. It also provides publicity and other services in the EcoHouse.

The project also receives support from a federal programme for labour market reintegration, which offers grants and lowers labour tax on contracts offered to vulnerable people.

In 2014 20,737 audits were carried out. The estimated average saving potential per audit is 78 kWh of electricity, 130 kWh of gas, 2034 litres of water and 85 kg of CO2 emissions per year. Changes in behaviour alone can save between 10-20% on energy consumption.

Levanto helps 1,970 people annually to strengthen their employability. After the programme people are able to enter a range of technical jobs in the building and energy industry. Others find jobs as energy auditors or advisors.

These measures contribute to reducing energy poverty; improving quality of life and helping the city meet its climate change targets.

In the beginning it was difficult to reach the target group of low income households with the programme of energy saving measures. People living in poverty often struggle so much with daily challenges in life that they are not easily convinced to look into investment with long term returns. It was also found that traditional means of communication such as newsletters, especially ones using terms like ‘energy audit’ and ‘infrastructural energy savings investments’, had little impact and a discouraging effect.

Offering easy to implement solutions that bring immediate gains helped attract interest. The city created a simple and attractive voucher with information on free energy saving products, together with tips on how to change behaviour and save money straight away. Creating a more user-friendly application system for the audit also encouraged more people to apply. Reaching out to people through organisations significantly boosted the response rate to the programme. Today EcoHouse works in partnership with a range of welfare, housing, education, migrant, and community organisations, and across city departments. This intense collaboration is considered one of the project’s key success factors.

In Green Jobs for social inclusion (see references), EUROCITIES identifies three main factors that contribute to the success of city initiatives to create green jobs for social inclusion at the local level.

They are:

1. Combining demand and supply side interventions:  an intervention does not solely focus on developing people’s competences, skills and motivation (supply side intervention) but also aims to create a tangible route into the labour market (demand side intervention).

On the demand side, the programme's objective is to provide a ‘protected’ working environment with the view of supporting people to gain real work experience to enable them to compete in the mainstream labour market.

These demand side interventions are then complemented by well-matched activation and training measures (supply side interventions) helping people to gain specific skills and improve their chances of accessing the labour market.

2. Linking the interventions to local employment opportunities

The second success factor is the strong link between the programmes and local employment opportunities. Cities as the level of government closest to the people have an in-depth knowledge of their local labour markets. They can design programmes in line with local economic demand and prepare people for jobs that are available locally. The effectiveness of the demand and supply interventions is made stronger when they are grounded in local businesses and job market needs.

3. Tailoring activation measures to the specific needs of people

The third success factor of the programmes is linking the activation measures to the specific needs of the target groups.

For local authorities, programmes that combine greening and social inclusion bring added value, particularly during periods of budgetary constraint and growing demand for services. Integrated programmes that address several objectives with one investment bring efficiency to local interventions. Given the longer term perspective of the sector, linking job seekers to local jobs in the green economy should continue to bring results as the sector is set to grow.

More information on the success factors: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/green_jobs_for_social_inclusion_intro_FINAL.pdf

"Local strategies to implement national energy efficiency schemes", in Green Jobs for social inclusion, EUROCITIES , June 2015, 18-21.

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Jana Deforche
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium

Jana Deforche

Individual | European officer

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