Colombia has become the 4th-largest market for
LEED-certified projects in Latin America.

WRITTEN BY Alison Gregor

The plaza at Tiera Firma, a mixed use development, was designed to LEED standards in Bogotá.

When César Ruiz, CEO of Colombia-based Setri Sustentabilidad, answered the call for a commissioning authority for a hotel–office project back in 2012, he was a bit surprised when the owners also hired an engineering firm based in Portland, Oregon. The mixed-use development, called Tierra Firme, is located in the capital city of Bogotá and was designed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.


“The owners of this project were nervous about the LEED certification for this building,” says Ruiz. “So they were just willing to spend the extra money, and they hired Interface Engineering from the States and Setri from Colombia, and said, ‘Now, my friends, you have to talk to one another.’”


Together, both firms were tasked with guiding developers through the certification process—and emerged successful. Tierra Firme, a 600,000-sq-ft building completed in 2015 and awarded LEED Gold Core and Shell certification, is now the W Hotel Bogotá, operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts.


As Ruiz explains it, the two companies worked well together and have become good friends, but it was an unusual situation that exemplified the attitude toward LEED-certified construction in Colombia several years ago.


Nervousness, apprehension, and oftentimes need for education were the hallmark of developers and the building industry in Colombia at the time. But things have changed.


Colombia is now the fourth-largest market for LEED building in Latin America, behind Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. As of November 2015, there are 59 certified projects in the country—nearly 11 million square feet of space—and 140 projects in the pipeline, which is more than 44 million square feet, according the Consejo Colombiano de Construcción Sostenible (CCCS), Colombia’s green building council. Four buildings have been certified to the Platinum level, 26 to Gold, 20 to Silver, and 9 are Certified.


And Ruiz’s company, Setri, is now working with the same owner of Tierra Firme on a new project (this time as the only environmental consultant) involving development of two towers, one 27 stories and the other 13, and a 5-floor commercial center—all of which are pursuing LEED certification.


Colombia’s private sector has taken the first steps toward sustainable construction, and the government is following its lead. Inés Delgado, a project manager and founding shareholder of Construcciones por Colombia, was building the 141,000-sq-ft mixed-use ALPASO Plaza a couple of years ago in an environmentally friendly fashion, but she hadn’t planned for LEED certification. “We thought it would be a costly and cumbersome initiative,” Delgado says. “Then we ran into SUMAC, a [consultancy] that convinced us to go through the process, though we were very advanced in construction when we decided to go for the certification.”

An outdoor dining terrace at ALPASO Plaza in northern Bogotá.

An outdoor dining terrace at ALPASO Plaza. Shades on ALPASO Plaza’s façade keep it cool, and although the structure is air-conditioned, it has sensors to operate air-conditioning at minimal levels.

Shades on ALPASO Plaza’s façade keep it cool, and although the structure is air-conditioned, it has sensors to operate air-conditioning at minimal levels.

Located in Suba, a large lower- to middle-class neighborhood, ALPASO Plaza has been a boon to the area in northern Bogotá, where the city is most likely to start growing. “The project is interesting, because it’s not located in a really popular business corporate center, where you can find a lot of big company headquarters,” says Catalina Lozano, marketing director for SUMAC, a company that provides sustainability consulting throughout the Americas.


Attractive shades on ALPASO Plaza’s façade keep it cool, and although the structure is air-conditioned, it has sensors to operate air-conditioning at minimal levels. The building also has fully programmable LED lighting and low-water-usage fixtures in bathrooms. It’s located at the intersection of two major roadways, as well as in front of a stop on the TransMilenio, a relatively new rapid bus transit system serving Bogotá.


Delgado was interested in making her building green to distinguish it from other office and retail offerings in Bogotá, says Ron Dean, SUMAC’s vice president. She was so excited about SUMAC’s suggestions for LEED certification that she initially aimed for Platinum, though in the end it achieved LEED Gold for Core and Shell in 2015.


One of the most unique features of ALPASO Plaza is its green rooftop, which captures rainwater for consumption through a 17,000-sq-ft pond; water is then filtered through a treatment plant. The roof is also open to workers for enjoyment and the pond is fitted with a skylight, making plants and fish visible to those below.


Delgado says she foresees LEED certification for all future buildings of Construcciones por Colombia, including an office building in the vicinity of Parque de la 93 in the Chico area. And more and more building developers are following suit, especially within the past five years, as more LEED educational resources have been translated into Spanish, and the LEED AP and Green Associate exams are now offered in Spanish.


“And they just told us at Greenbuild recently that you can now submit your projects in Spanish,” Ruiz says. “That’s impressive.”


The LEED International Roundtable now has results from a pilot program (in which Setri participated) involving three projects, and is poised to approve an alternative compliance path for naturally ventilated projects in the tropics, Ruiz says, which should increase Colombian interest even more.


SUMAC has done its part to spread the creed of LEED by helping to compile a Catálogo Green, which lists current materials and services for the sustainable construction industry in five Latin American countries (


“Finding materials in each country that will meet the LEED requirements can be hard,” Dean says. “It’s not that they’re not there, it’s just that people aren’t aware of them.”


As large international companies return to Bogotá, they’re demanding high-performance office spaces, which include eco-friendly features, Ruiz says. Office buildings are a growing sector for LEED certification, with shopping malls and hotels not far behind, according to the CCCS’s data. Because Bogotá has relatively little parkland for residents, shopping malls are one of the biggest forms of entertainment. And residents, along with international retailers, are demanding the best space possible.


“Something that’s amazing is that every new mall or commercial center here has to be LEED,” Ruiz says. “The people who are going to buy or lease the big areas in these commercial centers or malls ask for LEED.”


Hotels are following suit, especially those being operated by American brands. “[They are] following their sustainable corporate standard, so you can see some of the Holiday Inns, Sheraton…and some others, are being certified,” Lozano says.


The push for green buildings in Bogotá, with roughly 8 million residents, has been made as the city attempts to refashion itself as a tech powerhouse, or the Silicon Valley of Latin America. It was big news when Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Facebook, chose Bogotá to host his company’s first town hall meeting last January, announcing plans to bring free Internet to Colombia.


Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have opened offices in Bogotá in recent years. And the city is full of educated Colombians who finally have the safety and freedom—not to mention the potential international investment—to attempt to accomplish their dreams of opening businesses.

TransMilenio consists of several interconnecting Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines, each composed of numerous elevated stations in the center of a main avenue, or “troncal.”


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.