Argentina has pledged to substantially lower its emissions as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Currently, one of the largest sources of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the country is buildings, which consume approximately 42 percent of the total energy, 21 percent of water, and produce 65 percent of the waste. Conversely, green buildings have the potential to greatly reduce GHG emissions, water consumption and other resources.
A green building can be defined as a combination of techniques and materials that contribute to improving environmental performance, optimizing energy efficiency, recycling materials, limiting water consumption and reducing waste production.
In the United States, the green building movement has taken off strongly in part because of government implementation in public buildings and incentives for sustainable construction in the private sector.
There are many different forms of incentives for green buildings including fiscal incentives, property tax reductions, expedited permission processes, density and height bonuses, fee waivers, grants, and attractive rates on loans. In Argentina, green buildings are still a new phenomenon. This leads to the question, what policies has Argentina implemented to encourage sustainable construction?
In Argentina, the City of Buenos Aires presented a new building code that incorporates sustainability regulations (although it is voluntary), and a new regulation to incorporate environmental criteria in the city’s materials purchases. The city has also led by the example by LEED certifying its recently inaugurated City Hall in Parque Patricios (LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it is one of the most popular green building certification programs used worldwide). Moreover, the city of Buenos Aires passed in 2012 a 20 percent reduction of the ABL tax to buildings that have incorporated green roofs. According to the law, a green roofs consists of conditioning the roof of a building to enable the installation of a small garden in it, including placing a layer of soil as well as other elements of irrigation to allow the cultivation of plants. However, the most important policy to incentivize green building in the city is a subsidy for companies that apply LEED standards in new construction in the Technological District. The City Government subsidizes up to 50 percent of the overrun costs of turning sustainable.
In Córdoba, a project for green building labeling – called eSe – was developed and registered by the Institute of Sustainable Architecture of the College of Architects of Córdoba. This project is an integral system for auditing and evaluating performances of sustainable variables in buildings, both in the project stage and in existing ones. Based on this labeling, the government is seeking to grant reductions in real estate taxes to those buildings that perform more efficiently.
In the Patagonian city of Neuquén, the city council passed ordinance 13,515 in 2016, which addresses “sustainable buildings, alternative energies and energy efficiency.” The norm establishes a 50 percent discount in the construction tax and an additional 10 percent discount in the local tax if the green building classification is maintained. Moreover, there is also the possibility of building up to 20 percent more square meters for certain green building categories. The rule applies to new buildings.
The city of Rosario has passed the norm 8,757 – a pioneering policy in the country which stipulates that any construction that exceeds a surface area of 2,000 square meters must have its hygrothermal aspects and energy efficiency certified in order to begin construction. In addition, the city has implemented a Certification of Energy Efficiency that was carried out in 500 homes. This measure made it possible to detect the performance of households and the potential that they have to save energy. Residents can find out the energy performance of their houses and implement energy efficiency measures.
In spite of the above mentioned norms, there are only 67 LEED certified buildings in Argentina, indicating that the existing incentives for green building have not been very attractive for developers yet. In the case of the City of Buenos Aires, the incentives for sustainable construction are still low and do not cover the additional costs that a green building certification would provoke. Rodolfo Miami, CEO of one of the largest developers in the country (BMA Arquitectos y Asociados), argues that green building in Argentina is mainly due to marketing or Corporate Social Responsibility reasons, as there are no tax reductions or other types of incentives that really encourage to build sustainably.
In the case of Neuquén, currently the most attractive policy in the country, was recently approved and it is still very recent to evaluate its concrete benefits.
How does Argentina compare to its neighbors?
Simply put, Argentina performs badly if it is compared with its neighbors. Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru have implemented successful policies ranging from significant tax cuts to soft loans for sustainable construction. Brazil, for example, established a national decree that requires the incorporation of sustainable measures in the bidding processes of public contracts, which include contracts for the construction of public buildings. Moreover, the role of private and public banks has been prominent in Brazil (Santander, Bradesco, Deselvolve SP), offering different types of credits to LEED certified buildings, and to those who want to introduce water and energy efficiency improvements.
Chile incorporated a sustainable building certification called CES (Sustainable Building Certification, for its Spanish acronym), a national energy efficiency program, a new building code called National Strategy for Sustainable Construction, and sustainability criteria for government housing programs. Chile is one of the countries in the region with the highest number of LEED certified buildings. Similarly, in Peru, the government created a permanent sustainable construction council and has introduced a technical code for green building (D.S. 015-2015). Additionally, the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation has implemented energy and thermal efficiency policies and several municipalities, such as Miraflores and Nuevo Chimbote, have made agreements to encourage green construction standards.
Colombia has also begun the road to sustainable buildings. In 2014, the national government approved Decree Law 1715 that aims to promote green building. This new standard established the criteria that different buildings must meet in terms of energy and water consumption (it varies depending on the four climatic regions of the country). This decree came into force in 2016 and applies to new buildings. However, despite contemplating economic incentives and granting construction permits, the implementation of the new code has experienced several implementation complications.
In Mexico, the federal government introduced a new building code (NMX-AA-164-SCF1-2013) with minimum requirements regarding sustainability. At the state level, many governments have introduced several energy efficiency policies and solar water heaters. In Mexico City, for example, the government introduced a sustainable building certification called Sustainable Building Certification Program (PCES). In Jalisco, the legislature approved a green roofing policy, and in Tamaulipas and Chihuahua the government implemented a sustainable housing program. Finally, there are also cities that have taken leadership in green building, for example, the city of Zapopán, in the state of Jalisco, has created a concrete public policy to encourage sustainable constructions through 100% reduction of the construction permit fee to buildings that are LEED certified.
Countries with the Highest Number of LEED Certified Projects in Latin America and the Caribbean (2017)
The green building phenomenon in Latin America has already taken off, with some countries giving it more priority than others. If Argentina intends to move forward with green building, it will have to establish regulations, incentives and financing opportunities so that green construction can be established as the norm. In this way, not only will environmental gains be obtained, including objectives committed to in the Paris Agreement, but also economic and public health benefits.