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Shadings to greener buildings

A points system isn't the entire answer. But it can lead in the right direction.

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Cutting the fuel appetites of vehicles down to Prius-size portions or better is a good idea. But what about buildings? They consume two-thirds of electricity and account for a third of greenhouse gases. Can they go on energy diets?

In 2000, a consortium of corporations, builders, architects, government agencies, and nonprofits created a system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) to measure just how "green" a building would be. The LEED standard, which awards points for use of various kinds of "green" building techniques, can be applied to commercial, public, or private projects. Depending on how many points are earned, a building can win a "certified," "silver," "gold," or "platinum" rating.

While the LEED program for houses is in its infancy, more than 1,000 other projects have already earned some level of certification. They include libraries, schools, and corporate headquarters. The city of Greensburg, Kan., flattened by a tornado last May, has pledged to rebuild its public buildings to LEED platinum standards, the highest rating. The buildings that make up New York City's new World Trade Center complex are designed to meet LEED standards, too.

Builders can use a variety of techniques to earn LEED points. The Washington headquarters of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the nonprofit that created LEED, earned a platinum rating by using environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo and cork for their floors. It also contains reclaimed timbers and is illuminated by efficient lighting.

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