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Can the EDGE Green Building System Save the Planet?

Reductions of 20% in energy and water use in the developing world would make a big difference to our collective future

A bathroom in a tea house in Dingboche, Nepal, is a good illustration of how some building elements in underdeveloped countries differ so dramatically from those in the U.S., and why a different sort of green building certification system makes sense.
Image Credit: Stuart Kaplow

While Nepal is breathtaking, containing eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, the country is landlocked to the north by China and to the south and east by India. It’s a developing country with a low-income economy, ranked among the poorest of the 187 countries in the U.N. Human Development Index.

Writing this post from Nepal, I think that it seems appropriate to discuss EDGE.

EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) is a green building certification system for new residential and commercial buildings in emerging markets and developing countries. Yes, think “like LEED” for the other 70% of the world.

EDGE certification is available in over 120 countries around the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The list includes Nepal, but not developed nations like the U.S.

The photograph above was taken at a popular tea house in Dingboche, Nepal. It shows why LEED-type notions of interior water use reduction (e.g., WaterSense flush toilets) and energy reduction (e.g., LED lighting) have little if any application for the majority of buildings in most developing counties, where squat toilets with a bucket of water are the norm and the only illumination is daylight from a window.

A three-part approach

EDGE was created by the International Finance Corporation, one of five organizations that comprise the World Bank Group. It has three component parts.

First, there is free web-based software that is country and building-type specific (ranking a project against typical similar buildings). It recommends measures to reduce energy and water use, and includes sophisticated databases and calculations that make separate energy modeling obsolete. The software even projects the dollar return on investment for specific contemplated design features.

Second, EDGE creates a new pass-or-fail green building standard for projects that are able to demonstrate 20% less energy use (from efficient HVAC systems, superior glazing, low-energy lighting, solar solutions, etc.) than the city-specific prototype; 20% less water (from low-flow faucets, efficient water closets, recycled water systems, etc.); and 20% less embodied energy in materials (from floor, roof, wall, and window construction approaches that have low embodied energy).

Third, EDGE provides a third-party certification system geared toward greater marketability. EDGE is new, so there are few auditors today. However, Green Building Certification Inc. is a global certification partner for EDGE and the exclusive certification partner for EDGE projects in India. Certification will vary from country to country and is intended to be available at affordable rates.

It is not yet clear that certification costs are low enough to encourage marketplace acceptance of EDGE certification.

Even 20% reductions could be significant

Green building can save the planet, or at least the people on the planet. Today, significantly less than 1% of buildings in the U.S. are LEED-certified and that percentage obviously is much smaller across the globe. Maybe the answer outside of the U.S. is EDGE. And while it is premature to reach grand conclusions with the small number of completed EDGE projects, possibly there is much to be learned from the EDGE web-based software about how to expand the green building market within the U.S.

Twenty percent less energy, 20% less water, and 20% less embodied energy in materials, in a large enough number of buildings, will save the planet.

Stuart Kaplow is an attorney concentrating in real estate and environmental law. This post originally appeared at his website, Green Building Law Update.


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Dingboche is in the news...
    Who would have guessed that GBA would publish two photos from Dingboche, Nepal (population 200) in just a few weeks?

    The previous photo -- of two farmers digging up a cache of small potatoes -- was published in the article called Resilient Food Supply Systems.

  2. Expert Member

    I don't know where to begin. In what parallel universe are the people of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe going to flock to a software-based standard and seek third-party certification of their dwellings? There is something worryingly detached from reality about this sort of "save the planet" Ted Talk-like nonsense.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    I agree with you -- "flocking" is unlikely. However, "trickling" may occur.

    Since there is a question mark at the end of Stuart Kaplow's title, I think we can safely answer the question with a simple "no."

    If Kaplow's goals were lowered, it would be easier to claim success -- for example, if a few NGOs in the capital cities of these countries begin thinking about ways to lower energy use or water use in any new buildings that the NGOs are involved with building. Change begins slowly.

    Ironically, residents of poor countries are building much greener homes than Americans. Most homes in poor countries are small and use very little energy. Moreover, they are usually built using sustainable materials.

    There are more zero-energy homes in rural Africa and rural Asia, by orders of magnitude, than in the developed world.

  4. user-696154 | | #4

    I've been to Dingboche, marketability isn't in their equation
    I think Stuart's ideas will apply in the major cities/towns of 3rd world countries in the sense that they can save money. Nepal might not be a good example. When you get higher than Dingboche, the heating fuel is animal dung, the walls are stone, and the framing is hand hewn timber.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Yes, I agree
    I think everyone who has ever visited Dingboche (including me) will agree with you.

    Yak dug is collected as a cooking fuel, not a heating fuel. At least when I was in Dingboche and nearby villages, no one had central heating.

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