In 2010, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), sponsored by Siemens, put out a study entitled the Latin American Green City Index in which the environmental performance of 17 select cities in the region were analyzed. As an interesting aside, some 81% of the Latin American population lived in cities as of the publication of the study. The EIU assessment was spread across 8 categories: Energy and CO2, Land Use and Buildings, Transport, Waste, Water, Sanitation, Air Quality, and Environmental Governance. Quantitative and qualitative measures were used to rank each city, and Guadalajara (along with Lima, Peru) ended up at the bottom of the stack with an overall result of “well below average”. While that certainly doesn’t reflect well on the city, generally speaking, one must first realize there’s a problem before one can fix it. Another way to look at it is that there is a lot of room for improvement and opportunities to get involved for those who care to. Additionally, if you’re considering moving to Guadalajara, you’ll of course want to know what you might be getting into, and this study, its results, and any updates we provide here, can help with that.
Below, we outline the key findings from the study. If you would like more information about the study, we encourage you to read it for yourself. We stress that these are the results as published by the EIU in 2010. Many things have changed since then, and we’ve attempted to provide updates to the best of our abilities in each section to more accurately reflect the current state of things.
Energy and CO2 | BELOW AVERAGE
- At the time of the study, only 15% of electricity produced in Guadalajara came from renewable sources like hydropower. Online research suggests that this figure has not changed significantly since then.
- Significant manufacturing activities in the city meant a higher than average output, relative to the index average, of CO2 (333kg per capita).
- Guadalajara had not been regularly monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
- The city did not have a climate change action plan of its own, although the study goes on to state that Jalisco, of which Guadalajara is of course the capital, was developing one.
Land use and buildings | AVERAGE
- The EIU noted a high number of green spaces in the city but a somewhat lax policy in maintaining them. Since then, we must admit that we have seen park renovations completed and some effort at park maintenance (upkeep, replanting, etc), with specific parks anyway.
- Guadalajara was found to protect environmentally sensitive areas from development to an extent by requiring all new development projects to pass an environmental impact study.
- No standards had been yet set for the eco-efficiency of buildings by private developers.
- Green standards had not yet been implemented for public building projects.
Transport | BELOW AVERAGE
- The mass transport system in Guadalajara at the time was shorter in total kilometers than the index average for the group of 17 cities.
- On the whole, this system had been suffering from underinvestment and a lack of coordinated planning.
- The introduction of bus rapid transit (BRT) happened the year the study was published and was a step in the right direction, the EIU remarked. This BRT is locally known as the Macrobús.
- Guadalajara lacked an integrated pricing system for public transport, and, frankly, still does.
- Tax cuts for car buyers in the last decade as of the publication of the report had negatively impacted public transport usage and boosted private transport usage. In fact, the city is above average in car ownership, relative to the group.
- In 2008, the city had started a ride-sharing program for public sector employees. We have found no evidence that this program still exists. Also in 2008, the city started a free bicycle-lending program called Pedalea Guadalajara (Pedal Guadalajara), complete with bike stations at various points in the city. It is unclear what happened to this program, but it has disappeared.
In the last few years, the city has been working on expanding its light rail (Tren Ligero) with a third line. Construction continues. Moreover, the SiTren (bus line integrated with the light rail) has seen expansion in both distance covered and number of buses on the road. Finally, while the Pedalea Guadalajara system has ceased to exist, the MiBici bicycle system launched last year. While it’s not free, it’s still fairly cheap and promises to stick around for a while.
Waste | AVERAGE
- More or less 100% of the city’s waste was being collected and disposed of, although the population had been generating slightly more waste than the index average.
- Guadalajara was found to be enforcing environmental standards on landfill and incineration sites, and rules existed to encourage citizens to properly dispose of waste, but culturally speaking, it still seems somewhat acceptable to litter.
- There was a recycling collection program for all 5 of the key materials recognized by the EIU in the study – organic, electrical, glass, plastics, and paper waste. However, there is little reason to believe that such a collection program, if it still exists, is robust and thorough. From personal experience, it appears very likely that a good deal of recyclable materials end up in a landfill unless you personally utilize recycling services such as those offered by Ecovia.
- The city lacked an integrated strategy to reduce, recycle, and reuse waste, and the total amount of organic and non-organic separated waste had only reached about 40%.
Water | WELL BELOW AVERAGE
- Guadalajara’s daily average consumption of 651 liters of water per person was more than twice the index average!
- Only 89% of its population had access to potable water.
- The city was losing slightly more than index average of water through leakage.
- Reasonable water sustainability policies existed in the form of a code geared at reducing “water stress“and programs to promote public awareness of efficient water consumption. The city also had a code to target surface water quality.
- Water meter taxes were being used to promote efficiency.
- Local industry was not facing very strict standards for water pollution.
- The system of water and sewage, SIAPA, had an online customer service capability to respond to reports of leakages and field general questions. The site was also being utilized to promote sustainable practices for household water usage.
We continue to see poor water usage practices, including the watering of plants by the city in public avenues and spaces, including parks, often at the hottest times of the day, instead of in the early morning or at night. During our time here, there has clearly been an effort to address parts of the water infrastructure, but it is unclear how much the leakage situation has changed if at all, for instance.
Sanitation | BELOW AVERAGE
- Only 25% of the city’s wastewater was being treated at the time, way below the index average (about half).
- Weak sanitation policies were in place and code supporting environmentally sustainable sanitation systems was lacking.
- No regular monitoring of onsite treatment facilities like septic tanks was taking place.
- On the other hand, Guadalajara did have minimum standards for wastewater treatment and regularly monitored the treated wastewater, anyway.
Two new wastewater treatment facilities were proposed at the time. One of them, El Ahogado, was in fact being constructed and has since been completed and is now online, it appears. The second plant, Agua Prieta, has likewise been built and is now online as of last year. According to a news article, the Agua Prieta facility has increased wastewater treatment to some 79% in the metropolitan zone of Guadalajara, a vast improvement.
Air Quality | AVERAGE
- Cars were found to be mainly responsible for pollutant levels in the air.
- Guadalajara had an air quality code and pollutants were being regularly monitored at different locations throughout the city. It was also participating in a nationwide program to improve its monitoring capabilities.
- Measures existed to inform the general public of the dangers presented by air pollution.
In spite of the codes, measures, and monitoring, and especially given the fact that vehicles were found by the EIU to be primarily responsible for air pollution, you still see cars, trucks, even public buses being driven around that have no business being on the road and would never pass emissions testing. This is unfortunate, to say the least.
Environmental Governance | WELL BELOW AVERAGE
- Guadalajara had a dedicated department that oversaw and implemented environmental policy, but this department had no clout, according to the study. It had no recourse to address outstanding issues with sanitation, human settlements, energy, or climate change.
- Environmental performance was not being regularly monitored nor was the city publishing information on any progress made in this area.
- A central contact point for info on environmental topics and projects that could respond to public inquiries existed. However, on projects of major environmental impact, the city only partly involved citizens, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
It would seem to us that Guadalajara would certainly score better in certain categories these days were the EIU to take another look, given what the city has accomplished since their last trip here. Is the city perfect? Absolutely not. We complain about air pollution, dirty vehicles, cultural worship of the personal vehicle, trash on the streets, lack of biking infrastructure, and the inability to consume the water out of the tap leading to the need to purchase purified water, among other things.
Yet, it is clear in the years following the study that improvements have been made. There’s much more room for improvement (there usually is), but it is reassuring on some level that projects have been completed and didn’t just remain proposals on paper, that there are some out there who have a desire to see environmentally-related improvements through. It makes one feel slightly better about where they live, to be sure.