Designing green starts from the inside

China-based edg Corporation aims to lead the green building movement in the country through a virtuous cycle of learning and applying best sustainable design practices, and in the process help people improve their relationship with the spatial environment

edg Beijing office

The second Beijing office of green design focused firm edg (China) Corporation is certified as LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council. Image: edg (China)

The school of thought that promotes growth at all costs has begun to lose its foothold in China. The world’s most populous nation have in recent years taken steps to reduce its carbon emissions and assess the environmental impact of its growth. As part of its national strategy, the Asian giant is promoting green buildings as a way of improving the country’s resource efficiency while improving the quality of lives of residents.

Design firm edg (China) Corporation is one firm riding on this emerging green building movement. It intends to help in this new sustainable direction by offering green interior design and the sustainable construction of corporate offices, retail spaces and healthcare facilities.

Ping Chen, edg president, told Eco-Business in a recent interview: “Design is a process of education. In China, there is a greater gap in knowledge about sustainability between domestic and foreign clients.”

Indeed, according to a report by The China Business Review on China’s green building industry, multinational corporations and large Chinese companies are the early adopters of green building in China.

Oftentimes, the construction decisions in other organisations are based on short-term costs, the report noted.

An Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report published in July also noted that low awareness of the potential cost savings in energy-efficient buildings in China is restricting demand.

Chen noted that China, in many ways, is still a developing country. Although he studied and worked in the United States for more than a decade, he decided to go back to China, where sustainability awareness and design and construction services are “needed the most”, he said.

Currently, about 28 per cent of China’s carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. Energy demand from buildings in China is expected to triple over the next two decades, noted the EIU report.

Formerly known as the Environetics Design Group International with offices in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, edg counts Citibank, Microsoft and Coca-Cola as some of its clients.

In addition to designing and building LEED projects, the firm’s mission is “to enhance the value between human and spatial environments” by suggesting interior design improvements that can lessen environmental impact and encourage a more eco-conscious manner of operating a business.

LEED is the United States Green Building Council’s green building rating scheme.

edg now has a 29-point list called the ‘Key Elements for Design: Green, Creativity and Passion’. This set of guidelines covers the whole spectrum of developing a building, from design stage to pre-construction, and during construction to post-construction stage.

Some points tackle the reuse of materials or opting for green building materials, while others recommend ways to improve indoor pollution, such as finishing wood and paint work in the factory instead of at the construction site and ensuring exhaust systems are installed in easily polluted rooms, given that the outdoor air in China is quite hazardous.

According to the firm, addressing these details maximises the overall end-user value of a space without ballooning project costs. It also helps in measuring the return on investment through both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Chen said, “Green is placed first because it is the most effective, long-term element in achieving the maximum enhanced value.”

Prospective clients only need to take a look at the company’s list of awards, like their 2012 Best Original Hospital Interior Design Award for the Tianjin Women and Children Health Center, and their amount of press coverage to see that an eco-friendly design leads to great results.

For example, their 360 HQ office project for internet and mobile firm Qihoo 360 Technology was featured in popular design website ArchDaily back in June. Inspired by the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs-Boson particle, edg created four ‘Future Colliders’ – these unusual spherical brainstorming areas made out of renewable strawboards. This not only complemented their client’s out-of-the-box thinking, but it also provided Qihoo with a healthy office environment.

Similar to edg’s Beijing office, this unique space for tech firm Qihoo 360 uses renewable strawboards for the spherical frame housing brainstorming and meeting areas. Image: David Ho, edg

The strawboards are produced from 100 per cent wheat straw, an agriculture by-product, together with formaldehyde-free adhesive and low-carbon furnishing. And because it has ‘zero wood’ content, meaning it did not contribute to deforestation, explained edg, Qihoo can add this to their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. 

The EIU report did note that companies are starting to embrace buildings that meet their CSR objectives, along with those that meet national and international green certification standards.

However, more than any awards or media accolades, Chen noted: “The best measure of success is in client satisfaction and testimonials, of which many of our clients have given edg.”

And to keep the green building movement going, the company insists on including at least one green concept in every client pitch.

Promotion and practice is key, Chen emphasised. The firm considers these their key principles since they helped build China’s first LEED Gold factory in 2006, just when the country’s Ministry of Construction released their green building evaluation standards that same year.

In comparison, the US developed its LEED certification scheme back in 2000.

“The West has since quickly evolved,” says Chen, “but the East is bound to catch up.”