Sky is the Limit for Green BuildingsWed, 02/19/2014 - 10:48
For almost five years, Torre Mayor, one of Mexico City’s most emblematic buildings, was the tallest skyscraper in Latin America. “We started building Torre Mayor in 2000 and broke all the established rules of Mexico,” says Felipe Flores, Director of Operations of Torre Mayor. “It was considered impossible to build skyscrapers in Mexico City because of the damage that was caused to thousands of buildings by the 1985 earthquake. But we had the engineers, the technology, the materials and the expertise to get it done.”
Torre Mayor broke paradigms in more ways than just its height. It was one of the first sustainable buildings to be built in the city and has three ongoing goals: efficiency, productivity and safety. For companies, the efficiency of the building means reduced operational costs, for example on electricity. “They are learning that a building that has an efficient design immediately provides savings for its clients,” says Flores. As for productivity, Torre Mayor houses over 70 companies with a total of 9,000 employees, as well as 2,000 daily visitors. The building’s administration is in charge of controlling the atmosphere, canceling out noise, letting the perfect amount of light in and pumping fresh water. “All these services are very important for the productivity of employees. We help companies reduce employment absence because they have high-quality offices to work in,” adds Flores.
In 2013, Torre Mayor obtained the LEED Gold certification, awarded by the US Green Building Council, which was granted to the whole building, including its tenants. During the LEED process the building was classified as EBOM, Existent Building Operation and Maintenance, which Flores says is the most sophisticated certification available. “One of the conditions was that we needed the involvement of all the companies located in the building. Beyond the systems and the design of the building, which have been very clear from the start, it was very important to show the work we did within the community of Torre Mayor,” he says.
To make sure that all the players involved understood what sustainability meant, a survey was conducted among the tenants to assess their level of awareness. This revealed a bleak picture: 70% knew next to nothing about it. “We had to go back to basics,” says Flores. “We taught them what being green means, from the very beginning up, including the benefits that could be reaped for companies, the building and the market.” Most importantly, “we showed that all this could be done at the same cost, simply by choosing to buy recycled paper, for example.” The effort translated into 9,000 people changing their attitudes, which Flores expects will have a knock-on effect on their families and friends. “We are having a far greater impact than if we were just trying to get people to lease a space for a business. Our vision goes much further.”
He claims Mexicans need to change their mentality and accept expertise from abroad. While each country has its national pride, one sometimes needs to set that aside to welcome knowledge and expertise from a variety of sources. “We came to Mexico in 2000 to build this skyscraper; we brought materials from other countries but we also trained local human talent,” states Flores. The Canadian origins of Paul Reichmann, the man behind Torre Mayor, were another issue. “We were the first to invest foreign capital into Mexican real estate. There was widespread concern about why we were sharing knowledge with locals, with some warning us that we were training our future competitors. But if we invest here, it is because we care about this country, it is not just about business,” Flores highlights.
Torre Mayor’s success has helped the market answer certain questions about how much sustainable changes cost. “The changes we implemented in Torre Mayor cost what they needed to cost, financially speaking. What is more important is to consider the costs you will face if you do not make these changes,” Flores argues. “If a company does not want to spend the money, it does not have to. But it will soon lose money and be outpaced by its competitors.” The proof that this works, Flores claims, lies in the fact that after 10 years all of Torre Mayor’s tenants renewed for another decades. “If we do not collaborate to raise the bar in the cities where we work, we are lost. After we opened the doors to Torre Mayor everybody began to understand, and we can see the results on Paseo de la Reforma today in the amount of construction taking place and the presence of many qualified workers,” he adds.