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Green buildings bloom around the US

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The 34,000-square-foot building is likely to become only the third building in the US to get a sought-after certification for its extensive use of renewable materials and energy conservation.

All this activity is part of a growing trend toward energy conservation and the use of renewable materials.

Nearly 400 buildings, including Chicago's showcase, are seeking certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which has established a four-level scale for what it calls Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The extensive list includes energy usage, storm water management, and conserving materials. Indoor air quality is another big issue, giving points for using paints and other materials that don't emit odors and chemicals.

"When these buildings are new, they don't smell new. They have a healthier environment so there's less employee absenteeism," said Peter Templeton, a program manager at USGBC, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

One resident in Chicago's new building agrees that environmental design brings intangible benefits. "This is the most comfortable building I've ever worked in. It's well lit, and after working in sterile office environments, I like the idea that I can open the windows," says Mark Burger, sales manager at Spire Solar, which supplied some of the solar panels that sit atop the building beside an urban garden.

Lest anyone think it's just a few environmental extremists talking up green buildings, the Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded 729 structures with its Energy Star label, given to public and private buildings that score at least 75 on a 100-point test for energy conservation. Those buildings, roughly half commercial buildings and half schools and government offices, use about 40 percent less energy than other structures in their class. That translates to $134 million in energy savings and 1.9 billion fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions at those buildings.

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