Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Building expertise: A ‘system of professions’ approach to low-carbon housing refurbishment

Project description

This project explores the role of the building professions in the UK and France in delivering a comprehensive low carbon refurbishment of the existing housing stock. In both countries, the current market for low carbon refurbishment is extremely small, and it needs to grow significantly and at a considerable rate if the housing sector is to make its contribution to national and international carbon reduction targets. 

The questions we investigate include: How might different professions react to the threats and opportunities implied by low carbon refurbishment? How might the need for low carbon refurbishment change the roles and interactions of professions? How are existing professions developing to meet the challenge? Which professions will gain control over the new activities involved in low carbon refurbishment? Or will new professions be needed to carry out new roles? If so, what are these roles and how will this shift influence other professions? Does the level of skill and knowledge required imply the professionalization of some roles currently seen as trades? How do the relevant institutions view this issue and how are they preparing for it?

To address these questions we draw on two broad areas of existing knowledge – research in socio-technical systems (which addresses the process of technical innovation and associated social change) and the systems theory of professions (which views professions as an interactive, evolving system oriented around socially accepted problems).

This work is part of a jointly-funded EPSRC and EDF programme: People, Energy and Buildings. It is being undertaken in collaboration with French colleagues, Sylvie Douzou, Veronique Beillan, and Stanislas Nosperger based at EDF’s research centre ECLEER.

Methodology and Methods

Our research is exploratory in nature and does not claim to be comprehensive or representative of the entire building industry. We seek to understand innovative practices as a means of prompting new topics for debate, rather than inferring causality from them. The fact that innovators can be found in this field is not an indication that the mainstream is about to change.  However, the innovators have to operate in the same policy and cultural context as mainstream incumbents, and their innovations can provide insights for industry strategy and policy-making.  To clarify the ways in which the work practices of innovators have changed and are changing to accommodate a low-carbon agenda, the project studies professions on three levels: the micro (work context), meso (system of professions), and macro (socio-cultural environment).

We use a case study method to explore our topic, which is appropriate when the research focuses on contemporary rather than historical phenomena, and when the researchers cannot control the events in question (Yin 2009). Due to financial limitations and the difficulty of reaching the target population, our project has addressed a handful of innovations and innovators active in both countries.  However we have increased the efficacy of these cases by making observations at different levels of analysis (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994), and by using multiple methods (Putnam 1993).

Mindful of the need to triangulate, the case studies underpinning our work rely on various combinations of document review, individual in-person or telephone interviews, interviews with multiple participants in a group process, observations of group interactions and workshops, and participant observation in industry conferences.  Most in-person interviews were taped and transcribed.  Transcripts for the full project are being analysed using qualitative data analysis software.

Publications, Papers & Presentations

Our journal publications, book chapters, conference papers, and presentations to date are listed below, and we have a number of additional articles in preparation and under review.


  • Fawcett, T. (2013) Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: owner-occupied housingBuilding Research and Information Published online: 11 July 2013 DOI. 10.1080/09613218.2013.804769.
  • Fawcett, T., Killip, G. and Janda, K. (2013) Building Expertise: Identifying policy gaps and new ideas in housing eco-renovation in the UK and France. Proceedings of European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Summer Study 2013, Belambra Les Criques, France.
  • Janda, K. B. and Killip, G. 2013. Building Expertise: Renovation as Professional Innovation.  Chapter 2 in Constructing Green: The Social Structures of Sustainability.  A. Hoffman and R. Henn, (eds).  pp. 35-55.  MIT Press: Boston, USA.
  • Janda, K. B., & Y. Parag. (2013) A Middle-Out Approach for Improving Energy Performance in Buildings. Building Research & Information 41 (1): 39-50.
  • Killip, G. (2013) Building Expertise : aperçus sur la rénovation énergétique des logements au Royaume-Uni et en France, Colloque du Printemps de la Recherche a Nantes.
  • Killip, G., Fawcett, T., Janda, K. B., Bellian, V., and Nosperger, S. (2013) Building Expertise: industry responses to the low-energy housing retrofit agenda in the UK and France. Proceedings of European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Summer Study 2013, Belambra Les Criques, France.
  • Killip, G. and Beillan, V. (2013) Building Expertise: réponses innovantes de la filière construction aux enjeux de la rénovation énergétique, proceedings of Socio Energie, 1ères journes internationales de sociologie de l'énergie [invited paper]
  • Rosenow, J. and Eyre, N. (2013) The Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation.Proceedings of the ECI - Energy, 166 (3): 127-136.
  • Rosenow, J., Eyre, N., Rohde, C., Buerger, V. (2013): Overcoming the upfront investment barrier - comparison of the German CO2 Building Rehabilitation Programme and the British Green Deal. Invited paper for special issue in Energy & Environment 24 (1&2), pp. 83-103


  • Fawcett, T. and Mayne, R. (2012) Exploring an ‘over time’ model of eco-renovation. Retrofit 2012. Salford, Manchester, 24-26 January 2012.
  • Killip, G. (2012) Beyond the Green Deal: Market Transformation for low-carbon housing refurbishment in the UK. Retrofit 2012 conference, University of Salford.



  • Eyre, N. (2010) The economic context of low carbon housing refurbishment. Invited presentation to Oxfordshire Sustainable Consumption conference, Oxford, 10th December 2010.
  • Janda, K.B. and Killip, G. (2010) Building Expertise: A System of Professions Approach to Low-Carbon Practice. Proceedings of EASST 2010: Practicing Science and Technology, Performing the Social, September 1-4, 2010. Trento, Italy.
  • Janda, K. B., & G. Killip. 2010. "Building Expertise: A System of Professions Approach to Low-Carbon Refurbishment."  In Proceedings of the ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, August 15-20, 2010  (Asilomar, CA). Vol. 10, pp. 114-126. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
  • Janda, K.B. and Killip, G. (2010) Building Expertise: Renovation as Professional Innovation. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Proceedings of Constructing Green: Sustainability and the Places We Inhabit, May 20-22, 2010.

Project details