José Picciotto
Founder
Picciotto Arquitectos
/
Insight

Obstacles to Popularizing Green Architecture in Mexico

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 10:58

Architecture plays with spaces, linking it intricately to the environment. It was common to see constructions that had been adapted to their surroundings in preindustrial societies, but this has not been the case for contemporary urban settlements, which alter the landscape and ultimately take their toll on the land and its natural resources. This situation has led many visionary architects to adopt more sustainable designs and try to minimize the environmental impact of their projects. Although this been the tendency in Mexico, it has yet to become widespread practice, due to a number of obstacles.

José Picciotto, Founder of Picciotto Arquitectos, explains the challenges green architecture faces in Mexico. Picciotto often invites his clients to consider green buildings, and while he is no longer surprised to see that they are usually unfamiliar with the concept, he perseveres in his efforts to convince them to ‘go green’. “I would rather promote green architecture than expand my client base,” he says. Convincing clients has proved to be a challenging task, despite the fact that sustainable buildings offer clients tangible benefits, such as savings on utilities and maintenance. “Green buildings are efficient by definition. However, clients are skeptical about the concept, and this calls for more information on the matter,” adds Picciotto. “In Mexico, people are not aware of what green buildings can mean for them.”

European countries provide a good example, as they are more focused on energy efficiency as a result of higher utility costs. “In this context, building designs are architects’ responses to government-imposed limitations. The designs come as a result of the national rules that are in place,” says Picciotto, adding that this has not been the case for the US. “The US consumes 25% of the world’s energy, while being home to only 6% of its population,” says Picciotto. The architect argues that Mexico lives in the shadow of the American lifestyle, with the government paying too much attention to the unsustainable practices that exist in the US. However, this might be about to change, as the Mexican government has begun to take a closer look at sustainable development in buildings.

According to Picciotto, for a long time Mexican government officials did not consider environmental issues to be important. “Energy used to be cheap, which meant there was a lack of concern for efficiency or ecology. Even if pollution was an evident problem, the government did not address it with a system approach, preferring short-term mitigation solutions. Over time Mexican authorities have become more assertive regarding environmental affairs, and this can be seen in recent legislation that has been passed, even though many regulations are not yet being enforced.”

The Mexican government is also taking small steps toward promoting certification, though it is still playing catch-up with the private sector. “The private sector moved first and more quickly than the public sector, because it is generally more conscious about sustainability than the government,” says Picciotto. The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation was formed when NAFTA was signed and was meant to address the environmental impact that might come as a result of this international treaty. One of the first recommendations it came up with was for government buildings to set an example by being more efficient and sustainable. The US and Canada stuck to this agreement but Mexico did not. One of the main reasons for this rejection was that most entities in Mexico, including the government, do not own the buildings they are based in. For this reason, they do not assume responsibility for the lack of sustainable mechanisms in their offices. On top of this, developers tend to prioritize safer investments over long-term benefits. Picciotto uses the example of certifications, such as the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), which serve as mechanisms to promote sustainable buildings. In his experience, those that obtain such certifications usually do so as a result of pressure from transnational companies during business transactions. Whatever the motivations behind obtaining them, the certification trend is gradually expanding and that can only be a good thing.

Picciotto would like to see a change in the government’s approach to sustainability: while it talks about sustainability, it has stalled on taking specific actions to promote sustainable practices in the construction and transportation industries. “For example, Mexico offers tax deductions to those that can demonstrate sustainable practices, and while this is stated in the law,” according to Picciotto it often does not happen because civil servants are not aware of the regulation. “Buildings, such as hospitals and hotels, consume enormous amounts of energy and there are no incentives to encourage them to modify this,” he says.

Picciotto Arquitectos is committed to promoting sustainable city designs, even if this means struggling with skeptic and indifferent parties