The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has approved regional "green building" standards that it hopes will be adopted by all area governments.

The standards endorsed by COG's board of directors in December were developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and establish a four-level point system for rating new construction based on whether the buildings use environmentally friendly designs that are, for example, energy efficient, control stormwater runoff or reduce construction-related waste.

The standards, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, were developed to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. The COG board, which represents 21 jurisdictions in the Washington area, is among the first regional bodies to adopt the standards.

"We want to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings so they sit more lightly on the land," said Joan Kelsch, chair of COG's Intergovernmental Green Building Group and an environmental planner for Arlington County. "Buildings are responsible for 70 percent of our electricity use, 38 percent of our carbon dioxide emission and 12 percent of our potable water use."

Although so-called "green buildings" were once thought to be expensive and unattractive, a report presented to the COG board dismissed those ideas. Green building can be a cost-effective solution if done correctly, the report said.

That includes using highly efficient heating and cooling systems, renewable energy and automatic faucets and toilets. Green building also promotes attractive, healthy work environments by using more natural light, open office space and non-toxic building materials, the report said.

"The region's population is nearly 5 million now and it's expected to be 6.6 million by 2030," said Stuart Freudberg, COG's director of Environmental Planning. "The only way we can accommodate growth and maintain our quality of life is to take steps like green building."

The action would apply only to most new government buildings, excluding schools, and new commercial properties. The board expects to eventually adopt green building standards for existing buildings, schools and residential properties.

Several local jurisdictions, including Montgomery, Fairfax, and Arlington counties and the District of Columbia, have already adopted green building standards.