CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

Panama 2017 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Roberto Forte Taylor, Director of Panama Green Building Council (PGBC), on minimizing ecological damage caused by construction and goals for 2017.

How has Panama received the PGBC, and how are you instilling awareness regarding the importance of minimizing environmental impact in the construction sector?

PGBC is one of the top five largest green building organizations in Latin America. As we grow, so does our influence and ability to spread awareness. We are part of the World Green Building Council (WGBC), an umbrella organization for all green building councils. In 2009, we contacted the WGBC and informed them of our intention to register the council. Ever since then, we have been escalating our level of involvement and the size of our operations. There are three[RF1] different levels of association one can attain with the World Green Building Council: prospective[RF2] , emerging, and established status. Countries such as Australia, Canada, the US, and Italy are all established members. In 2015, less than 30 countries had attained established status. After[RF3] years of making strong gains, Panama officially received its established status. Our growth over the last five years has been substantial, and the larger we get and the more global recognition we receive, the more influence we can have with builders here. As an organization we have physically grown as well, going from a 14sqm to a 105sqm office. We also have an extensive showroom highlighting different sustainable construction methods inside our office. We have over 135 members, most of which are architectural firms, construction contractors, and supply distributors. Some 30-35 of our members are individuals or institutions.

Can you elaborate on some of the new green building standards the PGBC is promoting?

The construction industry is trying to establish[RF4] itself as the second largest contributor to Panama's GDP; hence, any standards we can get universally adopted would have a major impact. In 2016, the construction industry grew, accounting for 14.8% of GDP in Panama. Simultaneously, sustainable construction projects grew. We currently have 30 projects officially certified with the LEED green building standard, which is still the most widely used standard in the world. We also have 80-85 projects in the certification pipeline, which puts us in second place in terms of green building certifications in all of Central America. Only Costa Rica has more. In 2012, the PGBC executive managers were in San Francisco for the Greenbuild Conference, the largest sustainable construction conference in the world. While there, we met with the IFC, and they were promoting a green code and certification to be applied to the energy sector, which is exactly what we need in Panama. Though they were looking at larger global markets, we really pushed to have the standards introduced here. Now, four years later, we have the first Green Building Code. In July we partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to organize the LEED Technical Meeting for the Latin American Region. Being Panama at that moment the 4th country in the world after Singapore, Mexico and Germany that carried out this activity. We had the participation of 52 LEED professionals from the entire region, 11 countries represented and 26 companies. For these results we received an honorable mention during the "LEED International Roundtable" held in October in Los Angeles. We are also partnering with IFC to promote de EDGE Certification. Everyone is really working together to get the word out about green building, its benefits and its codes and standards.

How are other Panamanian organizations supporting green building activities?

We work with many outside organizations whose missions are similar to ours. We know, for example, which groups or firms have experience with LEED and can therefore consult on projects. The biggest project we have at the moment is putting together a comprehensive eco-protocol for the municipality of panama. The sustainable construction guide put together by the National Secretary of Energy and the IFC focuses mainly focus on energy efficiency, but the Eco Protocol will include six or seven distinct efficiency and sustainability categories, including water efficiency, interior air quality, energy efficiency, and green procurement, to name a few. We want to use this protocol to establish the most holistic local certification we can, and we are currently working to implement them on a municipal level. We are working with the mayor and vice-mayor of Panama City right now, and once the Eco protocol is established there, we hope to implement it in other major urban areas. Additionally, once we have clearly established the technical requirements of the eco-protocol, we plan on proposing to the Ministry of Environment that they use our protocol as a best practices guide for the entire nation. There has also been some discussion of streamlining the permitting process for projects using green techniques and following our eco-protocol. This will further incentivize companies to choose green projects and use sustainable techniques. This is the most tangible intra-organizational synergy we are working on right now.

How do you plan on reducing the environmental impact of the industrial sector in Panama?

The industrial sector is relatively small in Panama; however, there has already been some movement toward more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Energy and water efficiency have been the sector's most important focuses, because they represent fairly large outlay categories. They want their operations to run as efficiently as possible, and many of their efforts have been seeing great results. Recently, the National Secretary of Energy announced the recipients of its energy efficiency awards, and industrial firms continue to perform well. As social responsibility has become more and more important in Panama's business culture, the sector has made great strides to bring its operations in line with contemporary standards and expectations.

What kinds of companies decide to become members of the council?

Some 37% of our members are engineering and architectural firms, most of which are local. While 29% are product distributors that represent a mix of large multinational and local firms. Interestingly, the companies that seem most interested in being members of the council are lighting providers and paint providers. Solar panel firms are also becoming more and more popular, and we currently have three member companies that are solar panel providers. Construction and project promoters also make up a fairly large proportion of our membership, and they include local and international firms. New companies are also usually interested in joining the council because they see it as a way of making a competitive differentiation in the market.

What are your main targets, goals, and ambitions for 2017?

The most important goal is completing the eco-protocol, which will serve as the guiding light and technical foundation for creating a new green Panama. The clear elucidation of expectations and incentives is so important, and this document promises to deliver on both fronts. We can begin making transformative changes to the economy and the environment of Panama using this as our guide. We also want to see substantial improvement in the efficiency of residential construction, because this area is a key part of ensuring the greening of Panama. We want to reverse the trend of growing urban sprawl, and replace it with more sustainable city design as well as more efficient housing. Another key project is establishing baseline consumption statistics so builders, consumers, and governmental officials have a clear idea of where the Panamanian market is in terms of efficiency and consumption. This will allow companies to more effectively design and market their products and will allow consumers to make informed product decisions.