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A 'green' building rises amid Beijing smog

The new structure is China's first to pass the stringent, globally recognized LEED certification.

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The gray eight-story squeezed into a row of sedate official buildings seems innocuous. But from its radically efficient basement generator to the light volcanic ash soil on the garden roof deck, this is one of the cleanest and most energy efficient structures in China.

In a country both energy-starved and cash-conscious, the new ministry of science building is a small wonder. It uses 70 percent less energy than similar federal buildings, and saves 10,000 tons of water a year through rainwater collection. Wise use of quality materials inside a simple, plain design also make it far cheaper to build and maintain than comparable Beijing buildings.

Last week, this building became the first in China to pass the stringent, internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

"This is a 'living building,' that uses the flows of sun and rain," says the spiritual godfather of the LEED certification, Robert Watson of the New York-based National Resources Defense Council. "It uses 40 percent less water, and passed a variety of tough tests."

Since China began seeking the Olympics and foreign investment in the 1990s, its leaders and city planners have talked a great "green" game that has left many foreign-based environmentalists swooning. On March 7, as part of the newest five-year plan, the construction ministry issued a new edict requiring that by June all new construction be 50 percent more energy efficient.

But the actual record on energy- and resource-friendly construction in China remains mixed at best. The green visions of ecology-minded policymakers vie with the realities of a nation rebuilding its urban centers day and night, with aggressive developers, impatient construction firms, quick money, and a floating population of as many as 400 million workers needing housing in coming decades. Few Chinese developers or experts feel the nation will match the March 7 edict for energy efficiency. "We can't enforce it," explains a knowledgeable government source in Beijing.

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