As "green" buildings have gone from being isolated oddities of hardcore environmental activists and entered the mainstream, the need for green standards has grown. To meet that need, the U.S. Green Building Council was created by building industry and environmental consultants in the 1990s.

The non-profit organization came up with a rating system called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Standards, to codify requirements for certification and to prevent "greenwashing," or false or exaggerated claims by green building developers and owners. The LEED certification has become the "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval for green buildings.

The LEED rating system focuses on requirements for green building design and layout. These include: sustainable site planning, safeguarding water and promoting water efficiency, use of renewable energy and energy conservation measures, conservation of materials and resources, and indoor air quality.

Over the last decade, the Building Council has set forth checklists for different categories of projects, including new building construction, retrofits, commercial building interiors and single-family residences. Others are now being finalized, including neighborhood developments.

For example, the "new construction" checklist includes requirements for construction activity pollution prevention, management of refrigerants used for air conditioning and a way to store and collect recyclables.

Among the optional features for new construction: providing fuel for alternative fuel vehicles or power for electric vehicles, 30 percent reduction in water use from industry averages, power from "green" sources such wind and solar, materials with 20 percent post-consumer recycled content, coatings with low air emissions and natural ventilation.

Each optional step incorporated into building design and construction gets one point on the checklist. Each checklist is different. At the end, the points are tallied up and scored on a scale, with the top score for new construction being 69. A tally of 26 to 32 points on that checklist gets a "Certified" grade; 33 to 38 points merits "Silver"; 39 to 51 "Gold"; and anything above that receives the highest "Platinum."

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, 20 public and private buildings in Los Angeles County have received certification and three of those have received the Platinum rating: the Audubon Society center at Debs Park, the Natural Resources Defense Center's Southern California office in Santa Monica and the Lake View Terrace Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

These listings are not free: the fees to process and rate each project range from $1,250 to $22,500, depending on the size and type of project.

Howard Fine

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