The brainchild of entrepreneur Prashant Kapoor, Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) is a green building software application and certification system that targets emerging markets. Developed with the objective of mainstreaming resource-efficient building growth, the program aims to transform the construction industry in 20 markets over seven years, making 20% of new buildings green – the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road and equaling over US $300 billion in green investment.

Backed by the World Bank Group’s IFC (International Finance Corporation), EDGE aims to fill a gap in the market left by prominent green building certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). In an interview with progrss, Rebecca Ann Menes, Associate Operations Officer at EDGE, explains that while certifications like LEED may raise the value of a property and give it prestige, the high standards that they impose often create a price barrier for developers – whether real or perceived. “Not everyone can afford LEED – they don’t have the time and they don’t have the resources and they can’t take that time [to invest in building green]. That’s what EDGE is for, is to try to be more inclusive and to scale up green building,” she explains.

EDGE, green building

EDGE-certified Keserwan Medical Center in Lebanon. Courtesy of EDGE.

Along comes EDGE, which was born when entrepreneur, architect and green builder Kapoor saw the opportunity to enable developers in India to erect green buildings for the mass rather than niche market. The result that he was seeking: more green buildings in a shorter time span. For Kapoor, the best way to penetrate a mass market lay in developing a software that would allow developers to measure the potential return on investing in green building in dollars. But not only would developers be able to assess the potential returns – they would be able to demonstrate them to others, whether they be financiers, building owners, or homebuyers – ultimately raising the value of the properties.

“The outcome is positive for climate change and it’s also positive for homeowners, who are paying as much as 30% of their household income to utility bills,” explains Menes. She notes that, while the software is currently exclusive to developing markets, there is no reason not to think that it will not be available in developed countries down the line.

Launched almost two years ago, EDGE is currently available for free in 125 markets around the world, and has 95 certified projects to-date, with 19 more projects in the pipeline. However, the team’s efforts are currently concentrated on achieving their target of 20% green buildings in just a handful of countries, including Costa Rica, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and South Africa, and are currently building partnerships in Colombia and the Philippines. Backed by the IFC, the software is funded by donor countries, with the lions’ share coming from Switzerland.

EDGE, green building

The EDGE-licensed Condominio Linda Vista El Mirador in Costa Rica (FUPROVI). Courtesy of EDGE.

Finding a New Model

Menes explains that, since EDGE serves different markets and smaller developers than large building certifications do, it is meant to be complimentary rather than competitive. One of EDGE’s partners – The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – has been key to helping the organization scale up EDGE. “There is plenty of the room in the market for everybody. We’re all working together on this – it’s not meant to be competitive,” she notes.

EDGE focuses on putting in place a rigorous process to ensure that developers deliver on the guidelines set out at the design phase. Once auditors have seen that the building meets the guidelines, a certificate is issued to the homeowner. “It’s really about empowering homeowners, and not about green washing,” she adds.

Menes explains that the objective of the software is to enable developers to model and create green buildings that are at least 20% better than standard brown buildings. The software helps developers make greener choices in four different areas: energy, water, materials, and design. She walks us through a demo of EDGE where we design a building in Cairo, showing how the software can help developers assess the cost of building green vs. traditional brown building. As we navigate, we see that EDGE has built-in the costs of materials in each category as per the local market.

More importantly, however, the software allows developers to see how much time it will take them to recoup their investment in green building given the savings made in utility bills – a complicated process that often has the team ruminating for days in their attempts to predict how people will behave in the space and how that will affect energy consumption. “It’s all about [trying to figure out] how people will behave in this building – it’s all about behavior and about educating people about how they should behave and consume in a building,” she adds.

On the design page, she demonstrates how a choice like changing a building’s orientation from South to North, for instance, can make energy savings. On the energy page, she shows how reducing window to wall ratios in the building or using reflective paint can help reduce the amount of energy that a building consumes.

EDGE, green building

Screenshot from EDGE software design page. Courtesy of EDGE.

EDGE, green building

Screenshot from EDGE software energy page. Courtesy of EDGE.

Other measures, like installing low-flow faucets in bathrooms and water-efficient faucets in kitchen sinks, also contribute to making buildings greener, while choosing concrete blocks over bricks for the building’s flooring and walls enables us to surpass our target of 20% energy savings on the building as a whole.

EDGE, green building

Screenshot from EDGE software materials page. Courtesy of EDGE.

EDGE, green building

Screenshot from EDGE software water page. Courtesy of EDGE.

EDGE targets developers, building owners, engineers, architects, homebuyers, banks, and governments in an effort to raise awareness about and demonstrate the benefits of green building. According to Menes, developers are the group’s primary targets and the EDGE team works closely with them to demonstrate how building green can improve their sales. But developers are not the only group that the team has to convince. “We have to convince architects. We are also working with governments [and banks] to incentivize developers to build green. Without the developer, none of the other pieces of this puzzle will come together.”

And while the team is reaching out to banks to divert conventional financing from brown to green building, they are also keen to emphasize that building green does not have to come with privileges. “We don’t always want to incentivize people through money – it doesn’t have to be special every time, but they have to understand that this building will be more valuable because of the lower utility bills,” explains Menes.

EDGE, green building

EDGE-certified Johnson Controls HQ Asia Pacific in China. Courtesy of EDGE.

Menes, who is planning a trip to the Philippines to meet with local partners there on the eve of our interview, explains that the team has learned to work with top developers in each market rather than focusing on the many smaller ones. According to her, the team has found that the top 10% of developers often command up to 90% of the market.

The EDGE team, which is based in Washington D.C., works through a network of local partners, including green building councils, who train, accredit and license EDGE auditors. Certification providers promote EDGE and create awareness in their markets, building local support for the software through conferences and by incorporating the software into their own programs. Many local green building councils have their own local certifications that they offer in tandem with EDGE while ensuring that they meet their goals for EDGE. “It’s done quite seriously – it’s not meant to be vague,” explains Menes. “An example of a goal for a local green building council is that they might have to achieve 20% penetration of the market in new building growth within seven years.”

Other partners include architectural firms like the UK-based design, architectural, engineering and planning firm HOK; planning, design and consulting firm Perkins Eastman; Asia-based private construction consultancy firm Archetype Group; and design and development group Bouygues Construction as well as the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group.

Although the software is currently exclusive to new buildings, developing a retrofitting tool is in the medium-term plan for the team. In addition to retrofitting, the next phase will see the team go through a process of verifying their projections, which Menes explains will come in handy when promoting green building to banks. “Right now, it’s really a tough sell for us because banks want the evidence that this works,” she says.

“We’re need [gather data about] utility bills from all our different projects to see how it’s stacking up. So, based on human behaviour, were our projections conservative or were they liberal? We then want to be able to give those figures to the bank to show them that these buildings really are performing like we said they would,” she adds.

*Never miss a story like this - subscribe to our weekly highlights and stay up-to-date