Greening up construction

Latin American countries seek to promote sustainable construction.

The use of green building solutions in Latin America is significantly increasing as government regulations promote energy savings and cleaner alternatives in the industry. Latin America is the second most urbanised region in the world with 81% of its population living in cities. Traditional building materials like steel, concrete, asbestos cement and some industrial paints are extremely polluting and the use of composite materials to replace traditional materials is crucial.

A former urban planning public official in Colombia commented, “There are already several regulations in Colombia that promote sustainable construction, such as Law 1715 of 2014 or Law 1819 of 2016, [guidelines for reducing water and energy consumption in new buildings], and the National Sustainable Building Policy, contained in CONPES 3919 of 2018. Today, the National Development Plan 2018-2022 also defines objectives and strategies around sustainable construction.”

“There are already several regulations in Colombia that promote sustainable construction, […], the National Development Plan 2018-2022 also defines objectives and strategies around sustainable construction.”

Former urban planning official, Colombia

Sustainable infrastructure is also expected to be a key option for economic recovery in the region following the COVID-19 outbreak. In this context, to stimulate change and improve construction efficiency in the region, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank, awards the EDGE global certification system, via an online platform, which recognises achievements of a green building standard. Companies receiving the EDGE certification are expected to help accelerate the adoption of green buildings by demonstrating their values. In Colombia, Bancolombia, Banco Pichincha, Constructora Bolívar, Inmobiliaria Vinte, Davivienda and LatAm Logistic Properties were recognised with the EDGE certification.

The urban planning official continued, “The government is increasingly promoting sustainable initiatives through incentives and subsidies for greener buildings. For example, installing green roofs or facades generates a tax benefit; there are incentives for using energy-saving toilets or lights and there are subsidies for low-income and priority-interest housing.

In Argentina, in April 2021, the Ministry of Development and Housing announced the construction of 128 social housing properties with sustainable construction materials throughout the country with the aim of reducing the emissions of carbon. After construction, the government will monitor their environmental performance throughout the next year to certify their efficiency and replicate its construction model in additional projects.

Sustainable initiatives such as these aren’t new to Argentina either, as a senior civil engineer in Argentina explained, “The Construction Chamber has been promoting innovative construction techniques, seeking the least possible impact on the environment and reducing energy demand. Logically, it is not something that builders can do on their own, but rather that the entire construction supply chain is working in parallel to accompany this process.

The Construction Chamber has been promoting innovative construction techniques, […], it is not something that builders can do on their own, but rather that the entire construction supply chain is working in parallel.”

Senior civil engineer, Argentina

At present, the use of sustainable materials is insufficient in the construction of large infrastructure, particularly in Latin America, a region in urgent need of further development in connectivity. The Inter-American Development Bank emphasised that green recovery plans alone are not a viable path to building sustainable and inclusive economies. Thus, further developments in the construction sector should be aimed at reducing the price of composite materials.

Both public and private elements of the construction sector have sustainability at the top of their respective agendas, the civil engineer commented, “Sustainability is a constant concern for the sector, not only in Argentina, but worldwide. We are trying everything to reduce our environmental impact, we have experimented with: augmented reality, 3D printing, painting drones, self-healing concrete, robotic brick layers etc.

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