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Improving Buildings and Lives Across Latin America – with Women as Leaders

A green building revolution is under way in Latin America, one that will improve the health and well-being of future generations, and it’s being led by women.  Thanks to a new cash injection, this is a revolution that will spread far and wide, creating resilient communities at the forefront of fighting climate change.

It may come as a surprise that, in the male-dominated world of building and construction, more than half of the CEOs of the 15 Green Building Councils (GBCs) in the WorldGBC’s Americas Regional Network are women. But perhaps it shouldn’t be remarkable. Women are more affected by climate change, according to the UN, and have a strong stake in creating resilient communities. They also bring to the table the qualities of collaboration and good communication, vital in creating effective on-the-ground strategies to green the built environment.

Such collaboration is central to the way we work at the WorldGBC, and to one of the programs proving successful in Latin America. The Building Efficiency Accelerator(BEA) aims to double the energy efficiency of buildings by 2030, as part of cities’ response to the Paris Agreement. It draws on our GBCs’ expertise in leveraging private and public sectors, academics and NGOs to deliver technical and financial support – and give cities access to tried-and-tested solutions. Now, after winning $600,000 of funding from P4G for our Climate Action Cities Project, this work can be scaled up, equipping GBCs across the Americas to deliver transformational change.

Why is this important? Our region is represents a dazzling diversity of cultures, climate and innovation, but it also faces huge environmental, social and economic challenges. Central and South America is one of the most urbanized parts of the world, with 80% of people living in cities or towns. By 2025, these should see more than 20% growth and be home to over 315 million inhabitants. Rising population, energy use and costs, and the accompanying emissions and changing weather patterns all suggest that a sustainable approach to development is urgently needed.  Buildings are at the heart of this (globally, nearly one third of the world’s energy goes to heat, light and cool buildings) and people are at the heart of buildings.

Alejandra Cabrera, CEO of Mexico’s GBC, SUMe, is striving to encourage climate change mitigation through green building. The country’s current construction boom means that energy efficiency in buildings is central to achieving climate goals, while also maintaining economic competitiveness. Through the BEA, Mexico now has developed a model national energy conservation code. Another market with huge potential is Chile, emerging as a world-class destination for solar and wind developers, along with huge opportunities to strengthen its energy efficiency policy – something that Chile’s GBC, headed up by María Fernanda Aguirre, is working hard to achieve.

Also in Latin America, Colombia’s GBC (CCCS) represents a successful model for galvanising private sector support. When the Mayor of Bogotá set his city’s urban redevelopment masterplan, he wanted to ensure that the doubling of homes by 2050 didn’t lead to a doubling in energy use or declining air quality. So he turned to the CCCS and its former CEO, Cristina Gamboa, for help. Following expert support through the BEA, Bogotá now has a policy to reduce energy and water use in buildings by 20% and 30%. Further, 2.7 million new homes will have lower emissions and utility bills. Developers understand that sustainable properties – like Elementos with its solar panels, green roofs, recycled materials and 100% natural ventilation – attract a “green premium.”

Financing the transformation could also be supported by initiatives like the government’s Green Bonds program in Peru, a country that has experienced a significant economic revolution, but where 70% of homes are built on informal construction. There, Peru GBC, led by Francesca Mayer, is collaborating with a range of organisations to promote “sustainability for all.

Later this week, many of those leading the green building revolution in America will meet at Greenbuild 2018, led by the USGBC.  The conference’s closing speech will be made by Mayor of Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, an advocate for cities transforming into resilient communities in the face of climate change and natural disasters. This is something that resonates across our network. In Guatemala, for example, Belem Sálomon and her GBC team are working with others to create new, green homes for communities after June’s devastating eruption of the Fuego Volcano.

Greenbuild’s line-up (where another high profile woman, Amal Clooney, is opening the Conference) is compelling evidence of female leadership in our sector. In fact, ‘Leading with Purpose’ is the theme of this year’s Women in Green Power Luncheon – which represents exactly what inspiring women throughout Latin America’s green building community are doing right now. I therefore know that the transformation is in safe and powerful hands.

Juanita Alvarez is the Regional Head of WorldGBC’s Americas Network of Green Building Councils in 15 countries.

This post was first published on Women’s eNews.