The built environment is growing at a phenomenal rate: over the last decade, I’ve seen Kuala Lumpur exist in a state of perpetual development, with offices, shopping complexes, apartments popping up, and entire areas being regenerated. Big, established urban centres such as London are also enjoying a constant stream of renovation new developments, however, the rate of growth is overshadowed by that of emerging economies, which are enjoying an unprecedented boom in construction.
Markets across the world — China, India, and Brazil at the forefront — will see their buildings stock swell in the next decade, and this will have huge environmental and social impact.
Construction and the built environment plays a big role in global dynamics , and a quick flick through some of the statistics is pretty eye-opening: UNEP and the IEA have stated that 35% of the world’s energy consumption, 5% of the world’s water consumption, and 15% of the world’s annual GHG emissions occur in the construction and operation of buildings.
For these reasons, embedding sustainability into the global construction boom makes a lot of sense. However, green building has not gained a huge amount of traction in emerging markets, even though there are plenty of cost-effective green-building options available. With the current trends in construction, the long-term effects of underperforming buildings are not hard to imagine, with cumulative inefficiencies likely to put strain on local utilities networks, lead to higher costs to occupants, and generate greater GHG emissions.
EDGE to help sustainable buildings in emerging environments
The International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) has developed a platform – EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies), to help drive sustainable building in these emerging markets.
It’s based around a simple, free app which allows its users to register a building’s design parameters and review how different sustainability measures across energy, water and materials, influence the cost of construction, as well as annual utilities costs. The underlying model is heavily localised for climatic conditions and building usage patterns in order to provide solid estimates for the final build’s energy consumption. While EGDE originally only applied to new-build projects, it has recently expanded its scope to cover retrofits too.
From here, a developer can choose whether to pursue an EDGE Certification, which requires that a project installs appropriate measures to achieve at least a 20 % efficiency saving in each of energy, water, and materials, as compared to a ‘base case’ calculated from the local parameters.
Why is EDGE beneficial for both developers and operators?
EDGE certification can create a positive outcome both for developers, who can gain access to favourable green building finance, as well as benefitting from higher property value, and to building operators and users through lower utility bills. From a sustainability perspective, the energy savings, both through reduced embodied energy and through reduced energy consumption, as well as increased water efficiency, are clear. Furthermore, if adopted en masse, green buildings will be able to reduce the burden on local energy infrastructure.
Having recently qualified as an EDGE Expert, a role which will see me act as the interface between project designs and the EDGE certification and auditing teams, it’s clear that creating more sustainable buildings is both a highly necessary area of work but also very exciting as it encompasses subjects such as, renewables, embodied energy, well-thought-out design, smart engineering solutions and innovation around water efficiency.
The Anthesis EDGE team also presents exciting opportunities for cross-community collaboration within the company, drawing on expertise in construction and materials, energy in the built environment, and circular economy & resource efficiency — this enables us to aid our clients across several different facets of construction, and to add substantial business and environmental value to building projects.
I’m excited to play a part in building the profile of sustainable construction, and demonstrating that a few design choices can have a positive impact for all parties. As cities across the globe continue to grow, it’s clear that we need to build more smartly to ensure that these future urban environments are more sustainable and, importantly, more resilient. Green building has many misconceptions to overcome: technological limitations (we already have a wide range of solutions), excessive cost (the payback times for green measures are relatively short), and lack of value to prospective buyers (efficiency measures have a measurable impact on utilities bills).
EDGE has created a simple platform which can address these concerns in a short space of time, and gives developers a tool to experiment with several different possibilities. Above all, it makes green building more accessible, and demonstrates that these measures can be brought to any building project —the prospect of sustainable building becoming mainstream on a global scale is extremely exciting, and it’s something that I want to be part of.
Dr Rob Hewlett is a consultant at Anthesis, and approaches sustainable construction from a resources and embodied energy perspective, using his background in materials science and experience around waste. He also supports projects around circular economy and extended producer responsibility.
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