Scot Horst

Over May 18–19, the ConstruVerde conference is taking place in Bogota, Colombia. In tandem with this, USGBC presents this interview with Cristina Gamboa, CEO of Colombia GBC.

Naturally ventilated buildings are, at their core, sustainable. When designed correctly, they utilize their orientation and surroundings to breathe like a living being, thereby requiring fewer energy-intensive systems. The problem is that until now, LEED hasn’t been looking at some naturally ventilated buildings in the way that it should, and that has created unintended problems for these projects.

Fortunately, our friends at the Consejo Colombiano de Construcción Sostenible (Colombia GBC) have a tremendous amount of experience with naturally ventilated buildings. Colombia GBC proposed a new pathway for naturally ventilated projects in Latin America, and it was officially released in April. We had an opportunity to learn a bit more about why this pathway is a major step forward for LEED projects in Latin America by discussing it in detail with Cristina Gamboa, CEO of Colombia GBC.

Why is natural ventilation an important issue for LEED in Colombia?

Natural ventilation systems are widely used and very suitable for building projects in Colombia, due to our location in the tropics and the mild and fairly constant temperatures and weather conditions we experience throughout the year. Additionally, Colombian project teams have historically been leaders among LEED projects using natural ventilation systems. In fact, the first LEED Platinum project in Colombia was a naturally ventilated retail project certified in 2015.

However, the verification of natural ventilation designs has not been based on a standardized methodology, rather through good judgment of LEED project teams. This lack of a proven methodology left projects struggling to implement natural ventilation as a valid strategy while also documenting the LEED Indoor Environmental Quality credits. This is what led us to propose a new Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) for naturally ventilated projects within LEED.

Can you describe the process Colombia GBC used to develop this new ACP?

In order to create the ACP, Colombia GBC and the University of los Andes developed a collaborative research project to explore the possibility of standardizing the natural ventilation design process. This joint effort resulted in the creation of the Verification Protocol for Engineered Natural Ventilation Systems in Equatorial Climates. The protocol standardizes the process to document natural ventilation designs and establishes a structured and transparent tool to improve implementation of the LEED system in Colombia and Latin American countries with equatorial climates.

The project was carried out in conjunction with industry and academic experts, aiming to guarantee transparency and technical accuracy.

What effect do you think this new ACP has for LEED projects throughout Latin America?

First, this ACP will facilitate the implementation of natural ventilation systems in real estate developments aiming to achieve the LEED certification, and it will improve the way energy performance and indoor air quality in LEED projects is being verified for those projects.

Second, the ACP will allow projects using natural ventilation strategies approved by the Verification Protocol to more easily document compliance with LEED requirements. We have already received comments from other green building councils in the region stating that this ACP is a game changer. They mentioned that there are many projects in their countries that want to pursue LEED, but the challenges with documenting natural ventilation systems in the certification process made them abandon their LEED objectives. This may very well not be the case anymore.

What is the impact this will have on LEED's growth in Colombia?

One of the most discussed issues by Colombia GBC at the LEED International Roundtable, since its very first meeting in 2010, has been the verification of naturally ventilated projects. Verification of naturally ventilated spaces is one of the most important strategies to maximize the sustainability of a building in our country. The fact that we are now providing an alternative solution to one of the most common issues for LEED projects in equatorial zones will have a very positive impact on the market. This milestone leads the way to adapt the LEED certification system to Colombian and Latin American building markets; therefore, we expect very significant growth in the sustainable construction industry through the implementation of this design strategy.