Alicia Silva Villanueva
Founder
Revitaliza Consultores
/
Insight

A Professional Hand in Obtaining LEED Certification

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 16:32

Since its creation in the US in 1998, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has become the worldwide standard for green buildings. LEED certificates are awarded to buildings that pass a series of tests on energy and water efficiency, internal air quality and environmental impact. Such certifications are becoming increasingly important in Mexico. Quick to capitalize on the opportunity, Revitaliza Consultores seeks to give advice to a entities that are looking to obtain a LEED certificate.

Anticipating that the market would move towards green building initiatives, Alicia Silva Villanueva founded Revitaliza Consultores with the aim of offering LEED consulting services. This was a tough nut to crack at first, as many international companies that Revitaliza was in touch with saw it as difficult, if not impossible, to apply LEED certifications in Mexico. Silva proved them wrong by scoring several victories and ultimately helping a number of companies to achieve the highest quality buildings. The consultancy firm worked with Nestlé, resulting in the first LEED NC Platinum v3 rating in Mexico and Latin America. This broke down several barriers and other companies followed, resulting in six more Platinum certificates being awarded, including Torre Mayor, one of the tallest buildings in Mexico City.

Silva claims that people in Mexico have been spoiled by low utilities costs, ultimately resulting in careless consumption. While recent increments in utility prices have driven people to consider alternatives, the situation has not yet become severe enough to cause a real push towards more sustainable energy consumption. However, Silva estimates that 30% of energy could be saved across the board if people changed their “reckless consumption patterns.” LEED certifications offer one way of changing general attitudes towards more efficient utility use. Buildings that want to be considered for LEED certificates strive to have proper construction planning, infrastructure and maintenance. Even existing buildings can get LEED certificates by renovating and transforming their infrastructure in a way that increases operational efficiency. Silva sees these efforts as important in shaping the way people act in favor of sustainability.

In order to disseminate the benefits of LEED certifications, Revitaliza Consultores visits showrooms, manufacturing plants and key buildings. “We review their standards and the results are unsatisfactory,” says Silva. The most frequent problem is air quality. Buildings do not have outside air coming in and this poses serious health risks, with potential long-term consequences. “We notice that in many meeting rooms, people drink unusual amounts of coffee. They are struggling to stay awake and the real reason is that they are not getting enough oxygen. This is unacceptable under LEED standards.” Creativity and productivity depend on a person’s working environment, therefore employers and companies should see the value of investing in adequate buildings.

Regarding suitable work environments, Revitaliza Consultores did a study for the headquarters of OXXO, one of the largest convenience store chains in Mexico. The consultancy firm estimated how many days employees were away for healthrelated reasons, due to poor temperature control inside the facilities. Silva concluded that OXXO needed to build better stores: “the amount they would save over 10 years is almost the same amount they are spending on salaries. The price of the building would be completely paid off by these savings.” Most studies on green buildings focus on energy and water efficiency, but Silva says human capital is the most expensive asset and is worth investing in.

LED lights have become increasingly popular in recent years, as people see this technology as an investment and a more achievable way of being sustainable. Silva questions this approach, based on feasibility. “LED is a great technology, but it requires further development. Investing in LED lights is a wonderful idea, but using them in an entire building does not always make sense,” says Silva, adding that changing some LED lights to fluorescent and T5 lights on Torre Mayor resulted in huge differences in costs. Much like LED lights, Silva believes that photovoltaic technology is not yet mature enough. For instance, two hectares of solar panels would be needed to power the whole of Torre Mayor. The most obvious solution would be to build solar parks in the Mexican desert, but according to Silva, this way of thinking ignores the environmental impact of these technologies, which she believes should be fully considered before a solution can be called truly sustainable.

According to Silva, there are people and institutions that have not understood the principle of LEED certification, resulting in unrealistic market demands and expectations. Revitaliza Consultores helps its clients understand how each solution can benefit them and why certain measures should be discarded, regardless of how eco-friendly they may be.