Gustavo Alanís
President and Founder
Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA)

More Environmental Focus Means Greater Profits

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:38

When it comes to environmental laws and regulations, Mexico has a wide spectrum of tools on hand as well as environmental institutions. But the country still struggles with effective compliance and enforcement. The context puts one of Mexico’s most important sectors, tourism, at risk as its natural resources are some of the greatest attractions for national and international visitors.

Gustavo Alanís, President and Founder of CEMDA, considers environmental compliance to be among the biggest challenges that Mexico faces. The country is a champion when it comes to environmental regulation but putting it into practice is another story, he says. “On the one hand, certain developers are not doing enough to align their projects to the country’s environmental standards while on the other, governmental authorities have a limited capacity to oversee that each project is fully in compliance.” The context comes as no surprise considering that PROFEPA, the Attorney General for Environmental Protection, has only around 700 inspectors, which is a drop in the ocean. In comparison, the UK has around 10,600 inspectors despite being a fraction of Mexico’s size. “Budget cuts in the country are another issue,” says Alanís. “Inspectors are not sufficiently rewarded nor do they have the access to the technical support they need to do their job properly.”

Fortunately, a new generation of investors and developers with a sustainable conscience are entering the country and developing projects that increasingly respect the environment, primarily due to market demand for ecofriendly tourism. Alanís highlights that citizens are much more vigilant toward the construction of projects. Thanks to the internet and technology, information gets shared quickly and people are quick to take legal action against projects that are not ecological and legally friendly.

CEMDA, as an organization that uses the law to defend the environment and natural resources, offers advice and support to different sectors of society that do want to comply with the law and respect nature. It recently analyzed a residential project that was intended to be built in Valle de Bravo, State of Mexico. The developers had already purchased the land but after a series of studies, the organization concluded that the area was not feasible because there was an ecological zoning program in place that does not permit projects of this nature and also because there is a natural protected area where the project was intended to be built. CEMDA helped point the developers to a new piece of land in the area that will ultimately make the project more environmentally sound.

The organization was also asked to oversee the construction of a university in the area of Contadero, Cuajimalpa, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City. A US$15 million property had already been purchased but CEMDA found that the land could not acquire construction permits as it was in a conservation area. It also contained hazardous waste, which implied an additional cleanup cost. “The key is to take preventive measures and ensure that a project meets the requirements of environmental legislation before purchasing land or starting construction to avoid conflict or cancellation,” he says. “Meeting these standards is important as otherwise the credibility of the project is greatly affected.”

To remain competitive in the tourism sector, Alanís says Mexico needs to promote the respect of its legal framework through the environmental impact assessment process and ecological zoning programs. “Limits are not being respected,” he says. “Some developers that have a permit to develop five rooms per hectare end up building five times above the limit without incurring a fine.” Environmental prioritization is particularly important considering new markets such as Cuba are attracting global attention. Alanís fears that if the country does not clean up its tourism development, it could potentially eliminate itself from the competition, even if it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. “We need to ensure that tourism developers are behaving properly because if beaches are dirty and polluted, the attraction for tourists is eradicated,” he says.

He stresses that the public, private and social sectors need to find middle ground to ensure the long-term growth of Mexico’s tourism sector. “Infrastructure companies should continue developing projects but need to take into account the environmental considerations from the outset,” he says.