Accelerating the Sustainability Transition in the Built Environment

NewForesight and Squarewise Recommendations on Sustainable Home Improvements in The Netherlands

By Joost Backer, December 2021

Like many countries, the Netherlands faces the task to make hundreds of thousands of homes more sustainable by 2030. NewForesight and Squarewise investigated how this transition can be accelerated by focusing on so-called ‘caretakers’ (ontzorgers). Here are their main recommendations, complemented by 3 key lessons for built environment policymakers around the world.

The context

By 2030, the Netherlands must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 49% (116 Megaton, or 116,000,000,000 kg) compared to 1990. For the ‘built environment’ (including offices, houses) this means it must reduce its emissions by 3.4 Megaton. To reach this goal, the Dutch government has set itself the goal to make at least 1.5 million homes more sustainable by 2030. [1]

To speed up this transition, more and more so-called ‘caretakers’ (ontzorgers) have mushroomed across the Netherlands, from only a few in to dozens in 2021. These caretakers are private and semi-public parties that help home-owners take measures to make their house more sustainable. Examples of these measures are wall insulation, double- or triple-glazed windows, or alternative energy sources such as an electric heat pump. Caretakers offer services ranging from practical installation to advice on government subsidies and policies, and from financial advice to ‘one-stop-shop’ coordination of the entire transition journey.

The assignment

The Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations commissioned market transformation expert NewForesight and energy transition specialist Squarewise to investigate the question: What can stakeholders do on which moments, to develop an effective caretakers-market and accelerate the transition towards more sustainable housing?

The report (click here to download the full report, in Dutch) sets out 4 action perspectives for the national government, municipalities, companies, investors and other stakeholders that contribute to an effective caretakers-market.

  1. Create urgency and clarity towards residents and market parties about the necessity and targets of sustainable home renovation. Without the sense that ‘something must happen’ and a clear pathway towards the solution, not enough residents will decide to invest in their homes.
  2. Enhance comfort and capacity of municipalities to better collaborate with caretakers by means of a neighborhood-level or individual-level approach. In the Netherlands, municipalities are a key driver behind the sustainable home renovation – in order to do their job well, they need to be better equipped to reach residents at large scale or personally.
  3. Strengthen possibilities for finance and ‘saving as a service’, also for people that are not willing or able to make new debts. Residents need to have the possibility to finance the EUR 10-50k green home investment in a way that suits their situation.
  4. Encourage pre-competitive collaboration among caretakers with respect to knowledge- and data-exchange, as well as a guarantee fund. Although companies and governments have acquired a lot of knowledge and data in recent years, pre-competitive exchange thereof is still limited. More collaboration between these parties is therefore key.

Mentions of buildings across all countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions

Notes: ‘Adaptation’ can refer to any measures to improve resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as improved flood resilience for housing. Regions with fine left-hatching have specific reference to building codes. Regions with broad right-hatching have less detail in updated NDCs than previous versions. (directly taken from: Global ABC report, 2021)

3 Lessons every country should consider in its built environment transition:

The transition towards more sustainable housing is a concern in any country: in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, most countries (with notable exceptions such as Brazil and Australia) mention buildings (including housing), ranging from adaptation to energy efficiency measures (see figure above).

Although each country context is specific, certain laws of systemic change apply universally. Here are three 3 lessons for any policymaker or transition strategist:

  1. Look at the problem behind the problem. Problems at the surface may not always be the right ones to address. Investigate the root causes of an issue and be aware of the underlying forces that inhibit a speedy transition at different levels. It may seem (level 1) home-owners are not willing to pay for their sustainability investment – but (level 2) are they able to get the right loans from financiers? What regulatory restraints (level 3) inhibit these financiers from providing the credit?  
  2. Do what is right at the right moment. Transition makers often take measures which the sector is not ready for yet. Consider that any market transition usually must go through phases of maturity: from piloting and innovation, to competition, to pre-competitive collaboration and ultimately, institutionalization. Competing on existing business models without having taken the time to strengthen innovation and pilots may do more damage than good.
  3. Take action together. As a policymaker or transition strategist, you’re not alone. There are numerous stakeholder groups that each have their own role to play in accelerating the transition in the built environment. Universities can launch pilots and cutting-edge studies, NGOs can reward innovators and blame laggards, financiers can take away first-mover risk. As a government, you are not only a lawmaker or subsidy provider: you can take the role of a launching customer of new solutions, or convene the sector on a common agenda.

Are you a policymaker or transition strategist and do you want to accelerate the transition in your country? NewForesight has wide experience with sustainable market transformation in the built environment. Contact Joost Backer via Linkedin or email ( to explore how we can help you.

Click here to download the full report Op weg naar een effectieve ontzorgingsmarkt (in Dutch).

[1] Klimaatakkoord (2019) C Afspraken in sectoren, C1 Gebouwde omgeving, link

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