A biannual sport within the media punditry is to fret about the preparation of venues by the next Olympics host city. But while attending the World Green Building Council Congress and Greenbuilding Brazil in early August–hosted in São Paulo, with a tour of Rio de Janeiro’s sustainable building sites–we couldn’t help but see something truly noteworthy. Brazilians are building green and may produce the most sustainable Olympiad in history.
This isn’t out of character. The country has the seventh largest economy in the world and ranks fourth globally in green buildings (LEED certified or in-process). Already, five of the country’s 2014 World Cup stadia were LEED-certified, including Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, the largest soccer venue in South America.
On the Rio side trip, our hosts impressed us with Madureira Park, a 22-acre active-play, green corridor featuring a sensory garden and water cascade. Roughly 9,000 attendees and 100 exhibitors from two dozen national Green Business Councils attended the conference, where an Amazon of ideas flowed in all directions. And allow us to name drop: insightful conversations were had with Tai Lee Siang of Singapore, Conrad Wong of Hong Kong, Thomas Mueller of Canada, in addition to Felipe Faria of Brazil.
The Brazilians earned our respect. Despite the country’s political challenges–the business culture, an emerging supply chain, a hot and humid climate–representatives from here and elsewhere in the developing world find ways to build green. The drive and creativity are there. A keen interest in learning from what others have done is there as well.
But beyond treating green building as a social/environmental good, the conference had a decidedly financial emphasis. The WorldGBC’s annual David Gottfried Global Green Building Entrepreneurship Award was given to Nils Kok, an associate professor of finance and real estate at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and visiting scholar of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. Kok created the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), an investor-led initiative to assess the environmental and social performance of the real estate industry. This establishes a business case for sustainability, particularly for large portfolio owners. In his acceptance speech, Kok said challenges of climate change cannot be tackled without buildings.
Among Congress and Greenbuilding Brazil sponsors and exhibitors, few companies would know that better than Lutron Lighting Controls and Bayer MaterialScience. Lutron is responsible for low-impact lighting in a number of marquee projects in South America (buildings that house Facebook, Google, McDonald’s Corporation’s Hamburger University, et al.). Bayer’s new EcoCommerical Building in São Paulo, designed by architect Roberto Loeb and occupied since early 2014, is so tightly wrapped by breakthrough materials (e.g., polyurethane insulation in roofs and walls) and designed to take advantage of natural daylighting and ventilation such that 95 percent of the space does not require mechanical air conditioning. Thus far, it captures more solar energy and rain than it uses; in drought-stricken Brazil, this is no small matter.
Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) served as event keynote speaker. A witness to Rio’s 1992 Earth Summit, Cardoso’s perspective also includes Brazil’s economic expansion on the world stage while matters of sustainability simultaneously became critical to global economies and trade. With the 2014 WorldGBC Congress and Greenbuilding Brazil, these concerns came full circle–with much to cheer from the green building and design sector.