Alicia Silva
Founder and Director General
Revitaliza Consultores
View from the Top

Public's Lack of Sustainability Awareness a Challenge

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 16:01

Q: How has the lack of greenhouse regulations affected progress toward building with more sustainability?

A: Regulation is always a strong force for advancing the sustainability agenda. There are efforts being made to achieve sustainability goals, sometimes through internationally recognized certifications. For highways, railways and parking there are several certifications that meet international standards. The regional Ministries of Energy have committed to being part of the international development of a construction code that will have an impact on sustainability and they have been trying to address matters in a different way.

Q: What are the main benefits of the integration of sustainability in building?

A: Having an integrated design process in which all key stakeholders come together and discuss their concerns and problems is one of the major points of differentiation. These concerns are later accounted for during construction. At times when the government undertakes an initiative without consulting the public, the reaction is hostile but these certifications force organizations to bring everyone together. Sustainability considerations cost 5-6 percent more but create greater added value. The additional investment should be recovered in less than five years. Higher quality construction is necessary to ensure buildings are not abandoned. This can be seen in lowcost housing that is built far from cities and connecting networks. In the same way, roads with potholes will be abandoned in favor of higher quality roads. We see this quality in developed countries like Germany or the Scandinavian countries, where forward thinking is integrated into the design process. For emerging markets, sustainability means higher costs and we need to transform this thinking. It helps to talk to clients in economic terms and explain in detail that their investment will be more secure and generate a higher yield. Sustainability lies not only in the design but also in the operation of the building and its maintenance.

Q: What is the main challenge stunting the growth of sustainability?

A: The public’s lack of awareness about sustainability and its benefits is a challenge. Those who have never worked in sustainability believe it is between 20-30 percent more expensive but we proved that it does not have to be that way. We have certified large buildings like Torre Mayor, where the ability to renew tenant leases is extremely important. The commercial real estate sector has taken a particular interest in these certifications because they are important for success in the market. Mistakes made during the construction process generate the highest costs and when companies strive for a certification, they pay much more attention to detail, therefore reducing the number of changes during the process.

Q: How much responsibility does the private sector have to educate employees about sustainability?

A: It is not only sustainability that needs to be addressed but many things in general, such as education and respect for women. Those who own companies have a responsibility to educate and inform their workers about these issues. In construction companies in particular, a team needs to be built on trust or projects will not be completed on time, the quality will not be up to standard and there may be many problems. We are pushing for the industry to be professionalized and for workers to obtain a certificate for any specialties they may have such as setting floors or building walls.

When workers go abroad and can charge high fees, they realize the importance of credentials. People should have the opportunity to gain new skills and advance their career when they enter a company. This raises worker engagement levels, which nowadays sits at around 30 percent compared to 70 percent 10 years ago. Without appropriate growth opportunities, the company is very vertical and workers simply have to do whatever their superior tells them to do. We have seen companies that are changing, listening, educating and training their employees.