José Luis Gutiérrez
View from the Top

The Hidden Profits in Sustainability

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 10:41

Q: What certifications does SUMe work with and what are its priorities?

A: SUMe is associated with LEED sustainable certification systems but has evolved to offer BREEAM certification classes, a system that originated in the UK and is part of the International Living Future Institute. The latter may be less well known than LEED but it is highly demanding and as a result more efficient. LEED demands companies efficiently reduce energy costs by approximately 40 percent, while the Living Challenge expects players to use net positive energy where they must produce 50 percent more than the amount consumed. The Institute also requires businesses to harvest more water than the quantity they use. Overall, SUMe strives to facilitate access to a wide variety of international certification systems that promote sustainability. We also intervene in public policy, laws and norms. SUMe, for example, participated in creating a Mexican norm for sustainable schools through the National Institute for Physical Education Infrastructure (INIFED). If change does not happen quickly enough, cities like Mexico City that are doomed to suffer water scarcity will have such a profound lack of resources that companies will be forced to optimize the world’s limited resources. It will no longer be a question of choice.

Q: How are geographical and cultural differences taken into consideration when determining national norms?

A: Official norms promote sustainable buildings while clearly acknowledging the differences between each region in Mexico. International institutions that offer certificates such as Living Challenge equally allow companies to choose and define the steps they need to take to comply with their demanding net positive requirements. Obviously, each company has a different context that needs to be considered. For instance, a company in the desert that has water uncertainty will need a different strategy from a company in a location like Tabasco that is frequently flooded. Even though they may both strive to treat water respectfully and avoid overconsumption, their respective contexts demand they adopt separate methodologies. Standardizing the process of sustainability is not effective, especially in a diverse country like Mexico.

Q: What incentives does SUMe promote?

A: SUMe has a simple mission to make sustainability more profitable. Fortunately, technology and material development, coupled with the industry’s expertise, makes it easier to achieve our goal. Incentives such as pilot credit programs exist to motivate players. The Living Challenge reward system offers points for sustainable actions that place companies into silver and gold levels. Each region has customized ways to gain points. Companies should understand that the initial budget of a sustainable construction project may be more expensive than more traditional methods but in the long run, highly efficient models bring an abundance of cost reductions. The biggest step toward boosting ecological methods involves primary education. Elementary schools are starting to teach children about the importance of taking care of our planet through responsible consumption.

Q: What does the future of sustainability look like?

A: SUMe hopes the interest in sustainable buildings continues to grow exponentially along with access to professional education for older generations. The landscape changes so quickly that the best way to foster best practices is through knowledge, education and training. Most people care about the environment but have no idea where to start. SUMe can guide them in the right direction. We also plan to increase the importance of equity within the concept of sustainability. Everybody needs to feel welcome inside every structure, from wheelchair users to others with vision impairments. Many certification systems are starting to incorporate accessibility such as LEED pilot programs in Mexico. They make sure that a building cannot be labeled as sustainable if it does not incorporate equity into its structure. We hope to see a decline in the prevalence of companies that profit from the added value of sustainability by promoting misleading information.