By Sonja Rijnen -
Just off Colombia’s northern coast lies the small, idyllic coral island of San Andrés. The island’s hub is its cultural centre where the locals use the library, gather to eat meals, catch up with friends, and listen to a live band. Its design and construction were a collaboration between the local population and architects from the mainland and, with ample space for public gatherings, the centre’s design is embedded in the notion of oral tradition, allowing the islanders to continue to pass on knowledge as they have for generations. The construction is also entirely environmentally friendly, combining scientific and local knowledge to build a centre that is both self-sustainable and beds in with the local nature and landscape. What is special about this cultural centre, however, is that, just like many others in Colombia, it was almost entirely funded by the Department of Infrastructure of Colombia’s central bank, Banco de la República.
Banco de la República’s Department of Infrastructure is dedicated solely to sustainable infrastructure and is the only department of its kind within any central bank in the world. Not only does it fund and project manage buildings throughout the country that are culturally and environmentally sustainable, it also handles the re-modelling and re-constructing of existing buildings to make them compliant with the latest environmental standards. Colombia’s mint facility now includes rainwater harvesting tanks, and a separate factory in Bogotá is now near to being carbon neutral. Every choice that goes into designing the buildings has the local population in mind, exemplified by the fact that the colours of all the buildings constructed with the department’s input relate to local culture. The central bank has said that it wants to set the bar for sustainable infrastructure and wants to lead by example when it comes to making sure buildings are environmentally and culturally sustainable, often two aspects that come hand in hand as noted by Francisco Alvarez Corredor, the Director of Infrastructure at Banco de la República.
The construction industry consistently scores highly on the list of most environmentally damaging sectors in the world. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, buildings and their construction account for 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Cultural sustainability is equally as important as globalisation has led to the erosion of many local practices. In San Andrés, like a myriad of places in the world, while tourism has brought economic benefits, infrastructure for local culture has been side-lined. Leaders in the field of architecture and the construction industry are already exploring ways to make their industry more environmentally and culturally friendly. But, unfortunately, tepid political will across the globe has made this process slow and tedious and a lack of funding hinders progress.
So, what type of role should large economic institutions, such as central banks, take on to help solve this problem of environmental and cultural unsustainability and the lack of funding available to solve these problems? Officials in Colombia’s central bank are likely to say a big one. The problem of sustainability is not going to go away and adding responsibility to tackle it to the functions of those bodies that hold the purse strings, such as central banks, would be a strong step forward. Other countries should learn from Colombia’s initiative in this respect and carve out new roles for large economic institutions by giving them the responsibility to financially and institutionally contribute to the creation of a more environmentally and culturally sustainable world. It seems that Colombia’s central bank might be on to something.