From a general perspective, Brazil’s commitment to environmental sustainability is widely considered commendable compared to other countries witnessing rapid growth. In contrast, the construction sector has continued to lag behind and has become under increased scrutiny for failure to adhere to the increasingly important global standards of environmental protection.
Brazil’s buildings themselves constitute 45 percent of national energy consumption and whilst some significant steps forward have been taken – such as the creation of the Brazilian Council for Sustainable Construction (Conselho Brasileiro de Construção Sustentável, CBCS) in 2007 – true sustainability remains a huge distance away.
The current consensus amongst thought leaders, researchers, academics and consultants is that the employment of increased sustainable practices could save the industry between 30 and 40 percent of the consumption of energy.
Below are some of the main issues facing the growth of Brazil’s environmentally efficient construction and building industry as well as the associated counter-reactive measures being implemented:
Timber: whilst it was recently reported that, as a result of Brazil’s post-recessionary growth, the level of illegal deforestation has began to increase slightly, a number of measures have been instilled to ensure that certain parts of the country of high ecological value (such as the Amazon and the Pantanal) cannot be logged in any way, shape or form.
Other stipulations include the requirement that the origination of wood used in the construction process is officially certified.
Waste: according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, IBGE), based on current practices, from the waste created as a result of the construction of three buildings, there would be enough to create an entirely new one.
In response to such alarming figures, President Lula recently sanctioned Law no 12.305/10 which establishes a national policy on waste disposal that materials either need to be effectively recycled or placed within proper storage facilities.
It is also worth pointing to the increased presence of organizations such as the Institute for the Development of Ecological Housing (Instituto para o Desenvolvimento da Habitação Ecológica, IDHEA) who have developed a product range from recycled waste from previous building projects such as bricks, tiles and plastics – these have all been tested and manufactured using the identical methodology as with construction material in the mainstream marketplace.
Education: much of the low construction standards across the country are attributed to the lack of understanding of effective techniques and practices. According to the department of engineering and architecture of the University of Campinas (São Paulo), the prominent and reputable training of professionals is mainly located in the Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte states whose graduates, generally speaking, tend to remain in these areas to practice.
Despite this, there is a rising presence of established development companies – with teams of well-qualified professionals – relocating further afield than solely the south and central of the country (including Rossi, Gafisa and MRV who are taking advantage of the real estate growth opportunities that lie within such as the north of the country).
Organizations such as the CBCS and Pini also work to formulate industry-led literature, guidelines, software and other knowledge dissemination that is filtering through to act as a means of common conduct amongst industry professionals.
Water Use/Drainage: the wastage of water during the construction process is a common issue that is seen throughout projects throughout the country. Brazilian constructors are being encouraged to employ the use of equipment which saves the consumption of water (such as storage tanks and controlled discharge valves).
In terms of the sustainable usage of fixtures and fittings in buildings themselves, there is also an increased presence of water efficient shower units, rain-water recycling facilities and other installations which encourage residents to conserve water (and therefore costs).
Informal Building: one of the main issues that confronts the sector on a broader scale is the construction of buildings based on extremely low standards, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. Although projects such as ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ and other urbanization plans of favela communities in Brazil’s larger cities look set to assist with the control of such practices, the goal of completely eliminating this practice remains far.
Solar: Brazil is in an excellent position to take advantage of this sustainable method of energy generation within its buildings. However, the technology to truly make the use of such power still remains expensive and, whilst leading to cost savings in the long run, continues to remain financially unviable in construction plans.
The current practicality of solar energy reliant buildings has also been questioned, particularly in the commercial sector – for example, the installation of a solar collector pipe is a cumbersome process and it is widely viewed easier to have a long term electrical energy conservation infrastructure (which still adheres to national standards).
Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of research and development into the increasing importance of solar in the building industry (an example would include a detailed national feasibility study by the Society of the Sun NGO (Sociedade and the Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares, CIETEC).
Wind: particularly in the north of the country, where wind speeds can reach some of the highest on the planet, the use of this source of energy has become increasingly important. Whilst wind turbine sales have been reaching unprecedented levels, the industry itself has yet to benefit from economies of scale with largely wealthier self-home builders and eco-styled project constructors being the main end users at the present time.
Construction industry leaders have voiced their concern of being caught in a trade off between rising material prices whilst also needing to meet environmental standards which, it is argued, also come with an elevated price tag.
However, some academics and industry professionals have debated that this does not always have to be the case – John Vanderley of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, for example, states: “sustainability has three vectors: environmental, social and economic of which, in many cases, there tends to be an imbalance. If all factors are considered in parallel, it is quite possible to have sustainable construction projects.”
He continues to refer to several products that have long existed in the Brazilian marketplace (such as fibrous cement tiles) that are low priced but are often not used due to not being considered as ‘industry standard’ materials – he believes that it is only through the education of the benefits of such products that their usage will become more common.
As the industry continues to grow in line with the enormous deficit that the housing industry faces (which looks set to increase in line with population growth) – as well as implementing standards and procedures on a policy level – an overall level of commitment by the nation’s constructors constitutes a critical part in its long term sustainability.
Ruban Selvanayagam is a Brazil Real Estate and Land Specialist. For free e-books, state guides, up-to-date statistics, strategies, interviews, articles, weekly broadcasts and more please head to the Brazil Real Estate and Land Investment Guide via the following link: http://www.brazilinvestmentguide.com/brazil-property-real-estate-land/