New NYC High-Rise Is World's Most Eco-Responsible

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This year USGBC will begin to rate commercial interiors and existing buildings, not just new construction. Of the four levels of certification—certified, silver, gold, and platinum—only two buildings have achieved platinum to date in the U.S.: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, and the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Construction and design factors that help buildings qualify for a high "green" rating include use of renewable and non-polluting materials; recycling, cleaning and maintenance practices; access to public transport or bicycle parking; and use of previously degraded land.

Commercial and residential buildings account for 67 percent of the total electricity consumption and 37 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to the U. S. Department of Energy, which supported development of LEED green building standards.

Several U.S. federal agencies are following LEED guidelines. The General Services Administration requires that all building projects in the 2003 construction budget meet LEED Certified level standards. The U.S. Navy has a certified project, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Force have registered projects, and the U.S. Department of State and the Army plan to follow LEED guidelines for future projects.

Green building has also caught on in localities throughout the U.S. City governments in Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington are among those that require LEED certification for public projects larger than 5,000 square feet (465 square meters). San José, California, requires LEED certification of all municipal projects over 10,000 square feet (930 square meters). The states of New York, Oregon, and Maryland provide tax breaks for green buildings.

Green Building Costs

Green buildings save money over the long-term as they use fewer resources in their operation and improve real estate value.

"The general rule of thumb is that you can build a LEED-certified or silver rating building for the same or less first costs," said Ervin, who added that this is particularly true when LEED certification is approached early in planning. Ervin notes, however, that the higher a building is rated above the silver rating, the greater its development and construction cost.

In a possible sign that the green building movement is becoming more mainstream, both the Gap and Starbucks are helping USGBC develop green building standards for retail stores.

Additionally, USGBC representatives said they plan to offer residential buildings ratings next year. "I think people are beginning to appreciate that we spend 90 percent of our lives in buildings," said Ervin.

A new 75,000-seat Jets Stadium football sports arena is yet another green building that will further energize New York City if it is built as planned in west Manhattan. It will use solar cells and wind turbines to produce power to the stadium complex—and will provide extra power to the surrounding city.

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