THINKING OF THE FUTURE

Panama 2017 | GREEN ECONOMY | FOCUS: SUSTAINABILITY

Sustainability is a buzz word to many, but in Panama it is taken very seriously, with both the public and private sectors leading the charge as a number of initiatives and programs have been set up to promote green living.

In Panama, the concept of sustainability applied to the real estate and construction sector has taken hold and is becoming more widespread by the day. An increasing number of LEED-certified buildings has made Panama one of the most sustainable countries within Central America: there is a clear and evident commitment by the government, the private sector, and international organizations, such as IFC and the Panama Green Council to promote a new culture in the construction sector, boosting the concept of green architecture and minimizing the impact on the local environment. The construction industry grew significantly in 2016, accounting for 14.8% of GDP in Panama. There are 30 projects officially certified with the LEED green building standard, which is still the most widely used standard in the world. There also have 80-85 projects in the certification pipeline, which places Panama in second place in terms of green building certifications in all of Central America, only behind Costa Rica.

An important step for the green revolution is represented by the approval of Law No. 69 in October 2012. The new regulation, known as UREE, imposes new general standards “for the rational and efficient use of energy in the national territory.” The new law includes robust auditing for the construction of new buildings that will allow for the comparison, monitoring, and tracking of the energy consumption and performance of a building.
IFC plays a fundamental role in the development of new energy standards: IFC signed a strategic alliance with Panama's government to design a new regulatory framework that will boost the eco efficiency of Panama's buildings and the reduction of water and energy consumption in all the new buildings that will be constructed in the country. Given that urban areas and cities consume 75% of the world's natural resources and that 80% of the world's population is expected to be living in cities and large urban areas by 2050, the issue of sustainable construction in cities is more crucial than ever.

Roberto Forte Taylor, Director at the Green Building Council Panama, is one of the promoters of the new green revolution that is transforming the approach to the sector. In an interview with TBY he noted, “The sustainable construction guide put together by the National Secretary of Energy and the IFC focuses mainly focus on energy efficiency; however, 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 possible, and we are currently working to implement them at the 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 it use our protocol as a best practice 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.”
Forte explained that 37% of the council's 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 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.”