Ecological footprint in the housing sector


This project is examining measures for reducing the consumption of resources in housing. It is also developing a range of approaches for residents, building owners and authorities. The measures relate to the construction, use and renovation phases of residential buildings.

​Project description (ongoing research project)

We are conducting a detailed survey of the current status of the building and occupant inventories and their respective historical evolution of our three project partners: two cooperative housing associations (ABZ, Zurich and SCHL, Lausanne) and insurer Schweizer Mobiliar. We will quantify resource requirements and their environmental impact using a mass and energy flow model. We will determine the decision-making factors for moving house (how often?) and the choice of new accommodation (where? how large?), and will also record resource efficiency during construction and the decisive factors involved in reconstruction or demolition (when? how often?). Based on these data we will develop an agent-based model that couples tenants’ decisions with those of the owners. At the same time, we will simulate a range of development and resource-efficient paths using dynamic modelling.


The project will combine methodologies from the natural and social sciences. A major feature is the inclusion of two housing cooperative associations – ABZ, Zurich and SCHL, Lausanne – plus insurer and asset manager Schweizer Mobiliar, whose housing stock (a total of approximately 10,000 apartments) will be studied in depth. Together with these partners we will develop measures to improve resource efficiency. Housing’s ecological impact will be measured using a simulation model.


The aim of this project is to better understand by which means, and to what extent, the footprint of buildings can be reduced. We will discuss the project’s results with a range of building owners and tenants, together with whom we want to develop effective and consensus-based recommendations whose impacts on comfort, costs, returns and resource consumption are modelled and made transparent. In this way, possible paths for sustainable living can be presented.


Since 1990, the population of Switzerland has grown by 23 percent, while living space has increased by 40 percent. The latter is one of the main drivers of resource consumption. The project’s recommended measures aim to reduce the material footprint of apartment buildings without increasing their energy consumption. At the same time, acceptance and economic efficiency should also be taken into account. This will be possible thanks to close cooperation with major building owners who co-develop such measures and want to implement them. The project will thus contribute towards Sustainable Development Goal no. 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

Original title

Shrinking Housing's Environmental Footprint (SHEF)

Project leaders

Project leaders

  • Prof. Dr. Philippe Thalmann, Institut d’architecture et de la ville, EPF Lausanne
  • Prof. Claudia R. Binder, Institut d'ingénierie de l'environnement, EPF Lausanne
  • Prof. Stefanie Hellweg, Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften, ETH Zürich

Project partners

  • ​ABZ
  • SCHL
  • Swiss Mobiliar



Further information on this content



Prof. Dr. Philippe Thalmann Institut d’architecture et de la ville, EPF Lausanne EPFL ENAC IA LEURE
Station 16
1015 Lausanne +41 21 693 73 21

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