Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have opened offices in Bogotá in recent years. Colombians finally have the safety and freedom to attempt to open their own businesses.
Still, the trend is just in the beginning stages, says René Rojas, a founder of HubBog, an academy for startup tech businesses that offers a co-working campus, a mentor network, and “angel investors.”
While 97 companies have been founded in the past eight years at HubBog (84 percent of which are still in business), even the most successful of these businesses don’t have green office space as a priority—at least not yet, he says.
“When they grow too large for our campus, they go to an old-style house, because it’s cheaper, “ Rojas says. “They prefer to invest in people, in tools, like software and PCs and assets. Location is secondary.”
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger, more established international tech companies arriving in Bogotá seeking LEED-certified space and educated employees, he says. But on the part of locally grown businesses, “to observe that kind of behavior, I think we have to wait maybe two or three years,” Rojas says.
Delgado agrees: “Bogotá is still far from being able to call itself a Silicon Valley. I think the [CCCS] and green building certified professionals are pushing these practices on local developers.”
Still, with the return in 2016 of former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who created the TransMilenio idea along with an extensive bike path system, residents are getting excited about the possibilities of sustainable lifestyles again, Lozano says.
While Bogotá leads the country with 24 LEED-certified projects and 47 registered, Medellín, with almost 2.5 million people, is the second-largest market with 10 projects certified and 19 registered. Medellín is a slightly different story, where the government has gotten more involved in creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, including mass transportation, Delgado says.
Medellín “is the city where innovation is considered key for region development, and city officials take it so seriously that they have issued public policies and created organizations to foster investments in entrepreneurships,” she says, pointing out that while Bogotá created some bike paths, Medellín has invested heavily in a safer system of elevated bike paths that are currently under construction.
Lozano also points out that Manizales, a city of almost half a million people located 60 miles east of Medellín, was found in a recent survey conducted by the Red Colombiana de Ciudades Cómo Vamos, as the Colombian city with the happiest residents. She anticipates that the city will soon see its own share of LEED-certified buildings. Cartagena, the country’s fifth-largest city with almost 900,000 people, has been slower to jump on the LEED bandwagon. There is one certified LEED building there, with nine registered. However, Ruiz says he believes that LEED will become ascendant next in Colombia’s coastal cities, such as Cartagena, Baranquilla, Bucaramanga, and Santa Marta.
“Let’s say a big company wants to run a conference—they’d like to set that conference in a LEED-certified resort, for example,” he says. “It’s the perfect opportunity for our Caribbean coast. We’re located perfectly geographically, where we don’t get hit by hurricanes.”
Lozano says that Calí on the Pacific Coast, which has a free-trade zone, is another candidate for more LEED-certified construction. Currently, SUMAC is consulting on a Hewlett-Packard building in nearby Palmira that will aim for a LEED-certified Core and Shell, she says.
While Colombia’s government as a whole has been slow to take up the cause of green building, it has created laws around other sustainability issues, such as reforestation, and has recently passed some initiatives that will regulate use of resources such as water and energy, according to Cristina Gamboa, the executive director of the CCCS.
“This legislation is a very good sign for the market, as more players in the industry will be interested to innovate and invest in green businesses,” she says.
Action by the government makes sense, especially as it faces a weather phenomenon known as El Niño. About 70 percent of Colombia’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants due to the abundance of water resources in the country, says Catalina Morales, SUMAC’s engineer in charge of all LEED projects. But because of El Niño, the country has been facing drought conditions, forcing the government to confront possible water and energy shortages.
This year, the country created a decree and resolution requiring minimum percentages of savings in water and energy in new buildings (certain types of housing, offices, shopping malls, hospitals, and schools), which will take effect in June 2016.
“These minimum percentages are broken down by type of project and climatic zoning, and go together with the requirements given by LEED,” Morales says. “Thus, if a project decides to opt for LEED certification, [by] default [it] would be complying with national regulations.”
Ruiz says it’s important that the Colombian government is finally participating in the green building movement, though he says that private developers don’t require incentives once they’ve tried one LEED project.
“After that first project, they fall in love with LEED,” he says. “Not the plaque, nor the fact that you can rent your space better or faster or at a little higher price. They like the integrated process that LEED forces them to do. They believe the discipline of building a green building the right way forces the project to be very efficient—the result of making good decisions right from the very beginning.”
Editor’s Note: While not officially available yet, GBCI may be able to accept reviews in Spanish on a case-by-case basis. Please contact them for further details.