MANAGUA The first green real estate tours and new efforts to establish ecotourism- certification programs here suggest that Nicaragua s booming real estate industry wants to become a more environmentally friendly enterprise.
From eco-brokers to eco-designers, Nicaragua s residential tourism industry is finding more and more ways to incorporate environmentally friendly practices in each step of the development process.
We want to make it as easy as possible to build and live green in Nicaragua, said Brooke Rundle of Coldwell Banker in San Juan del Sur.
Rundle recently became the first accredited eco-broker in Central America under the program Ecobroker International.
In many ways, Nicaragua s underdevelopment has become a market advantage for competing in the sustainable-development niche. Because much of the sought-after real estate in Nicaragua is off the beaten path along pristine beaches or in verdant tropical forests, where public services are scarce developers have incentives to build projects that are self-sustainable and self-reliant.
In San Juan del Sur, for instance, a lack of infrastructure, common power outages and water shortages have prompted property owners to build self-sufficient developments with their own water supply and alternative energy sources, such as energy-producing windmills or solar panels. Because development here has started to boom only in the past few years, some developments are using the latest designs and technology to reduce environmental footprints, instead of having to go through costly and painful retrofitting of existing structures, says Jim Ryan, founder of ASI Power & Telemetry, a Costa Ricanbased green energy company that is eyeing the Nicaraguan market.
In the southern Pacific region of the country, the biggest challenges for developers who want to reduce their environmental impact is to find ways to avoid causing more deforestation in a part of the country that has already been heavily cleared of its primary forest. Developers also need to find ways to reduce the impact on a limited water supply and manage waste, said Rundle.
A recent study of satellite imaging by the German development bank GTZ suggests San Juan developers are reducing their impact on the biodiverse tropical forest.
The satellite photography showed that between 2000-2005, Rivas gained the most forest cover in the region 27,000 hectares of new forest were added in the southern Pacific department, with the municipality of San Juandel Sur leading the way by adding 7,000 hectares of new tree cover.
Density Not a Dirty Word
Luis Guzman of Umbral Arquitectura says sustainable development must first be financially viable if it s going to work.
None of my clients disregard the idea of sustainability, but it cannot be their main concern, he said.
For Guzman, development in Nicaragua must reach a critical mass in which it first becomes financially viable for residential development projects to go green on a large scale.
High density is essential for wider-scale sustainability. We do not want suburbia on the beach. But we want to reach a critical mass, he said, while speaking at a Sept. 9 forum on green development practices held by the Association of Nicaraguan Investors and Developers (ANID), the group s first workshop dedicated to the green development. Guzman reminded developers that density is not a dirty word.
Higher-density developments can be more self-contained, use up less surface area and reduce emissions and costs by reducing transportation needs, he said. Planned high-density development will help avoid a sprawl problem, in which residents must get in a car and drive around to access basic services like grocery stores and pharmacies. Mixed-use developments, in which residents are offered an array of services such as restaurants and shopping in one self-contained development, are becoming popular higher- density developments in the region, he noted.
Density also allows for the preservation of open space for other uses, Guzman added, giving developers a chance to be creative with the green space, as required by Nicaraguan law.
We need to plan for it, that way we can preserve enough space for green areas, he said.
Rundle, who recently began taking groups of clients on green real estate tours to see environmentally friendly projects such as the Fincas de Escamequita, said Nicaragua s real estate eco-industry is relatively new but gaining ground.
Her company, Coldwell Banker, has also been working on the Earthship project, an innovative real estate development outside San Juan del Sur made completely out of recycled material (see Perspective, Page N7).
Rundle recently took a series of classes and tests to get her license as an eco-broker with Ecobroker international.
Christina Cavalier, director of training and education for The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), said certification is a must for countries like Nicaragua.
Nicaragua also needs an eco-tourism certification program, like the one administered by the Tourism Ministry in neighboring Costa Rica, she said. TIES is a non-profit organization with 1,000 members in 90 countries to accredit certification programs in tourism and conservation.
Nicaragua tourism is now just beginning to take off. We need to make sure Nicaraguan professionals and foreign professionals are really understanding what sustainability is, Rundle said.
Green washing or the practice of marketing hotels, developments, destinations or activities as green or environmentally friendly without any real environmental knowledge or oversight is bound to emerge as a problem in Nicaragua as the country s private sector tries to improve its environmental practices and image, she said.
Just because you call it an eco-shack, doesn t mean it really is sustainable, she said. That s a huge problem all over the world. Cavalier said the primary problem threatening the environment in Nicaragua right now is deforestation. But, she said, the problem provides tourism and development industries an opportunity to incorporate agro-forestry systems in their business practices.
Timber plantations and sustainable forestry operations can include eco-tourism, she said.
The Pacific beach eco-resort Morgan s Rock is an example of that, she said. The resort, one of six TIES members in Nicaragua, has engaged in significant reforestation.
Morgan s Rock owner Clemente Poncon told The Nica Times that around San Juan del Sur a lot of developers are building on steep slopes, not exactly a sustainable practice.
There s no regulation. Many people would call a lot of the development that has been done a sacrilege. Some of the developers build like adventurers, he said.
But much of San Juan del Sur is yet to be developed, he added.
It s not the Costa Brava of Spain. Here, it s bad, but there s still time to save it. There are a lot of efforts to do so, which is why I believe it can be done, Poncon said.