Construction and the built environment accounts for approximately 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions – this includes constructing buildings and infrastructure, as well as the energy used to power them.

However, the construction industry’s impact on the environment has been continually improving since the 90s – and building a more sustainable world is one of its top priorities. One of the best ways to achieve this is to construct more green buildings.

So, what is the greenest building in the world?

The Edge - Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Edge in Amsterdam is the world’s greenest office building. Colloquially known as ‘a computer with a roof’, The Edge isn’t just green, it’s smart.

The rating agency BREEAM, which scores buildings based on their sustainability, gave The Edge their second highest score ever: 98.4%. The 430,000 square foot building uses 70% less energy than a comparable office building.

The building is oriented along the path of the sun to achieve greater efficiency for its 65,000 square feet of solar panels which cover the roof and facades.

The building is net energy positive, meaning it produces more electricity than it consumes, with the extra energy used to power the nearby university.

Other green elements of the building include Ethernet-powered LED lighting, using collected rainwater for irrigation and to flush the toilets, and an aquifer thermal energy system to heat and cool the building. Vast amounts of data are collected to monitor all of the building’s systems, continually adjusting to minimise its carbon footprint.

Glass building

What is green construction?

A green building is a building that in its design, operation or construction, reduces or eliminates negative impacts – and can create positive impacts – on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve natural resources and improve our overall quality of life.

Simply put, green construction is creating and using buildings to be as friendly to the natural environment as possible. This involves using natural, durable building materials, constructed using sustainable building methods. Green construction brings huge economic, social and environmental benefits.

Find out more about how the construction industry is going green.

Why was The Edge built?

The Edge was built to make a statement. Proving it’s possible to construct sustainable and efficient – yet smart and technology-driven – buildings.

The building’s tenant, Deloitte, is one of the world’s largest advisory services – and increasingly advises on sustainability and climate change. By combining green architecture with a data-driven philosophy, they can use one of their own buildings as a shining example to the rest.

It is hoped that The Edge’s construction and operation will help inspire other companies to construct similar buildings, placing sustainability at the heart of the construction process.

What building materials did they use?

One of the main materials used in The Edge is glass. The north-facing façade is 70% glass, the south is 45%, and the east and west are roughly 40%. Glass has been around for millennia – but it is an extremely resource-efficient material; it’s fully recyclable and can be recycled over and over again. The south façade also consists of heavy load bearing walls, providing effective thermal mass through heat gain – naturally heating the office.

Like most buildings, bricks and mortar were still needed – but like many of The Edge’s materials, they were sourced locally to reduce the environmental impact. The building also used plenty of timber throughout its construction cycle, and it’s estimated the materials used will save 42 million kilograms of CO2 in 10 years, compared to a standard office building.           

What are green building materials?

Green building materials are those which have a low environmental impact in their production, placing and maintenance. They have to be durable, reusable or recyclable, include recyclable materials in their composition and be locally sourced.

The materials also have to be natural and must not be spoiled by heat, cold or humidity. Environmentally friendly materials used in construction include wood, cork, bamboo, soil and sawdust. Providing the trees are replanted, timber is one of the most sustainable green building materials as it has a very low impact on the environment.

What green technologies does the building use?

The Edge features many innovative green building methods – combining new technologies with traditional materials to create a sustainable environment, including:

  • Thermal energy storage – two 129-metre-deep wells reach down to an aquifer, allowing thermal energy to be stored underground and used whenever it’s needed
  • Ecological corridor – a greenspace was created over the nearby motorway, allowing animals to cross over the site safely
  • Energy reuse – excess ventilation air is ventilated back out through the atrium of the building, passing through a heat exchanger to reuse and reheat the air – creating a circle of natural ventilation
  • Smart lighting – the building’s LED light system is monitored by over 30,000 sensors, measuring occupancy, movement, lighting levels, humidity and temperature, automatically adjusting to make best use of and conserve energy.

What is the future of green buildings?

Green construction has come a long way, but there’s more to do.

Energy efficiency in construction has gained a lot of traction in recent years, largely because of buildings’ significant share of global energy consumption. Falling costs, combined with government support and the need to meet net zero targets, as well as more environmentally conscious building owners and users, is helping to drive change.

The adoption of more efficient technologies such as heat pumps, advanced ventilation systems and smart building applications is driving more and more green building. These technologies are essential for decarbonising buildings to address climate change. Initiatives such as the Supply Chain Sustainability School are encouraging builders to place sustainability at the heart of their projects.

The Edge is a pioneering example of what green buildings can achieve – smart, efficient and good for the environment.

This is the future of the construction industry.