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The NRDC office provides facilities for 36 employees and uses up to 75 percent less energy than a typical office building.
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Global Office

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Since the skyscrapers started to rise over the Manhattan skyline at the end of the 19th century, the title of "world's tallest building" has been the blue riband of commercial architecture.

But now a new badge has captured the imagination of American business.

Amid growing corporate environmental awareness, the title of "world's greenest building" is up for grabs.

The driving force behind the green building boom has been the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its commitment to the development of "environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work."

In 1999 the USGBC launched its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program to rate buildings according to a set of green criteria such as their employment of recycled materials and their use of natural light and alternative energy sources.

In April this year the USGBC announced its 100th LEED-certified building. More than 1,000 buildings have also registered with the aim of gaining certified status.

"The market is charging ahead and LEED is the powerful driving force," said USGBC president Richard Fedrizzi.

"These numbers clearly demonstrate that the market is evolving towards green design and we expect to see more projects use LEED as the validation tool for green building."

California currently leads the way in the U.S. as home to the platinum-ranked Natural Resources Defense Council office in Santa Monica which opened last year and uses 60 to 75 percent less energy than a typical office building.

"We aspired to build the most environmentally friendly office we could, so it feels terrific to have the Green Building Council award us their highest rating," said NRDC president John Adams.

"This project shows others what is possible, and it is already helping to propel the green building revolution."

Other certified buildings in the state include the Ford Motor Company building at Irvine and the Warner Bros. film studios at Burbank.

But other parts of the country are catching up. Last month Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley announced that all new public buildings would be LEED certified as part of a project to make the city the most environmentally friendly in the U.S.

In New York developers have been offered tax credits since 2000 for constructing green buildings while new legislation will require all city public buildings to be green starting from January 2006.

Innovative technology

The trend is not confined to the U.S. The current holder of the title of world's greenest building is the Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad, India, which scored a record 56 out of a maximum 69 on the LEED scale.

Meanwhile the most recent addition to the London skyline, the Swiss Re tower, has been hailed as Europe's first green skyscraper due to a design that incorporates innovative environmental technology.

Current estimates suggest that up to $30 billion is being spent worldwide in the construction of green buildings and there are now 13.8 million square meters of LEED-certified building space, compared with just 740,000 square meters in 2000.

While being seen to be green is good for companies' reputation for environmental awareness, it also makes good business sense.

Going green: Environmental factors are influencing American corporate architecture.

Although green-friendly construction tends to be slightly more expensive, there are enormous savings to be made over the lifetime of a building.

Money saved from lower energy and water bills, reduced waste disposal and the improved productivity and health of employees can reach $70 per square foot -- more than 10 times the average extra costs of building green.

"The environment issue has long been seen by companies as a threat but it really presents an opportunity to make more money through better management," says David Refkin, Time Inc.'s first director of sustainable development.

"The environment issue is going to explode one day. Smart companies will be out in front."

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