The construction sector accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions and the number of buildings worldwide is projected to double by 2050 (UN, 2019). Better building design, the use of less polluting materials, and the recycling of construction waste are helping to make the sector more sustainable. This is because energy-efficient homes reduce the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, thereby mitigating climate change.
Bucaramanga, the capital of the department of Santander, is growing steadily and has experienced significant development in construction; the construction sector employs over 40 000 people and accounts for 6.5 per cent of the department’s GDP. In the wake of new technical requirements for sustainable construction, private and public actors joined forces with educational institutions in the local construction sector; in 2015, they formed a cluster to jointly promote the research and development of innovative solutions for sustainable construction throughout the country.
The local Chamber of Commerce developed a project on circular economy and sustainable construction in Santander's construction sector (in Spanish), which took place from 2018 to 2020 and was supported by Swisscontact under the Colombia Más Competitiva Programme. The project started by measuring the water and energy consumption in buildings in the region, as the existing national consumption data did not reflect the reality in Bucaramanga, where the climate is different due to its particular location 959 metres above sea level.
In addition to obtaining local data, a methodology (in Spanish) was developed so that other regions could also collect quantitative and qualitative data on water and energy consumption.
Testeo is a modular “living” test laboratory built like a house and equipped with numerous sensors. It allows the monitoring, analysis and simulation of different variables related to building materials, energy and water. With the help of Testeo, the researchers want to better understand which factors make a building more energy efficient, for example whether the building orientation can influence the temperature conditions. The lab plays a crucial role in innovation and the development of practicable procedures.
Maira Figueroa, the project coordinator of the Bucaramanga Chamber of Commerce, explains how the idea for a test lab came about: "We wanted to develop a prototype. One of the 10 international models we looked at immediately inspired us: the Smart Living Lab in Fribourg, Switzerland. We decided to replicate something similar here." The Santander cluster used the experience from Fribourg and, through the Swisscontact expert network, brought several Swiss engineers to the country to set up the first lab of its kind in Colombia.
Once innovative technologies and practices are developed, applying them in practice is crucial. This includes training and raising awareness among construction professionals. As part of the SECO-funded Colombia Más Competitiva Programme, Swisscontact supported Santander universities in updating their curricula to integrate sustainable construction practices into all study plans.
Sustainable practices are often perceived as costly investments. To drive demand for sustainable construction, it is also essential to raise awareness among consumers that energy and water savings pay off financially in the long run.
It is still important to motivate construction companies to use Testeo's offer to develop processes that can improve the efficiency of the construction sector without additional costs. After all, in this highly competitive sector, companies can set themselves apart from other market participants through innovative solutions.
Colombia Más Competitiva is financed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).