Luis Vega
President
SUMe
/
Insight

Changing Mindsets on Sustainability, Certification

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 20:18

Certifications like LEED or WELL are often viewed as an extra expense, and a niche for developers that want to brand themselves as sustainable. Luis Vega, President of Sustentabilidad para México (SUMe), says that if companies correctly followed Mexican legislation on sustainability, they could easily obtain these international certifications. “We do not have the correct auditing processes and we must work on that,” he says. “But if every developer in Mexico adhered to Mexican norms, we could easily meet the requirements for any other legislation, including LEED.”
Supported by the World Green Building Council (WGBC), SUMe works as a nonprofit consultancy that emphasizes the importance of sustainable certifications and helps companies obtain them for their developments. The consultancy works across a wide variety of certifications, including LEED, WELL and EDGE, and Vega says it is constantly searching for others to help improve urban lifestyles. This also enables SUMe to offer a tailored approach to certifications. “We want to get all the certifications under our umbrella so we can provide the right information to the market,” he says. “We want to avoid the use of certain certifications that may not be appropriate for a certain project.”
But for some, LEED certification is merely a branding tool. One study found that, for US buildings, a normal construction could consume on average 29 percent more energy in some cases than a LEED-certified building. Vega dismisses the idea that certification is simply a marketing ploy and argues that it is a display of each company’s mindset and commitment to sustainability. “LEED is not only a brand but a part of the spirit of the people pursuing a better world,” he says. “A building without the LEED label is not necessarily unsustainable. But LEED is designed for companies that want to show the world that they are conscious of their construction decisions and are committed to the future of the country.”
Vega also argues that while LEED is not necessarily more cost-effective for developers in the short term, which can put them off the idea, there are long-term benefits associated with certification. “When comparing the average price of a standard house to a totally certified development, the latter will never be more than 10-15 percent more expensive,” he says. Although that may sound like a lot for a developer’s bottom line, over the lifetime of the house it is a drop in the ocean, he says.
Still, the private sector can only do so much; the bigger picture, according to Vega, requires a policy change. ““LEED cannot only go so far alone,” he warns. “In September 2017, we learned that a natural disaster like an earthquake can change our landscape in an instant and if we do not invest in infrastructure, we will continue to exacerbate the problem.” He says that it is ultimately the responsibility of the government to implement the macro policy related to infrastructure, the environment and water use.
Vega points to events in South Africa as a reference for Mexico to take action sooner rather later. In the midst of a three-year drought, on June 4, 2018, Cape Town was expected to become the first major modern city in the world to face “Day Zero,” when the city’s aquifers were forecast to run dry. To avoid that result, the country launched an aggressive but successful campaign geared at conserving the resource. “We must make the commitment to do the right thing today,” he says. “If we move in the right direction today, we can avoid a situation like this.”
The next presidential administration must also act by implementing a strong infrastructure policy, Vega adds. He believes incorporating sustainability into the culture of the country would go a long way toward meeting infrastructure goals. “In every school today, children are talking about how to recycle and separate trash, and every day they are starting to have a greater understanding about the importance of these initiatives,” he says. “Mexico City made the decision to separate trash but the problem is that this decision is not aligned with the rest of the country. This means most of the time it all goes into the same landfill.”