The construction industry may be global, but standards for green buildings are not. That’s starting to change, however, as this week green building councils in Australia, the UK and the U.S. signed an agreement to develop common metrics for measuring carbon emissions from new homes and office buildings.

The metrics, which will seek to translate energy usage into emissions generated, will be fed into each council’s respective rating systems for green construction. While there has been talk for several years about more consistency among international rating systems, official collaboration has been slow in coming. This move is a first step that could lead to more compatibility around other important green building elements like material and land use or water conservation.

The common language should also make it easier for builders, architects and engineers around the world to collaborate on green building projects. This is especially important in the increasingly global industry of construction.

Green rating systems are a key component of the green building market, which could reach $140 billion by 2013, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, a market research and publishing group. Like a report card, rating systems provide benchmarks as to how green a building is. In light of the cachet now placed on green credentials, U.S. commercial building developers have started demanding that such standards be used. With them, building owners can in some cases charge higher rent, while companies in those buildings can brandish their commitment to green.

The three councils — Green Building Council Australia (rating system: Green Star), the UK’s BRE Trust (BREEAM), and the U.S. Green Building Council — that entered the agreement emphasized the key role the built environment plays in carbon emissions. The looming threat of climate change appears to be the driver behind their choice of emissions as their test case for collaboration. Buildings account for about 40 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S.

“As we work to alleviate the role buildings play in climate change…it’s vital that we are able to measure carbon emissions in a consistent, reliable way,” Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, said in a statement.

Let’s hope their higher impulses toward saving the world from climate change win out once the councils get to the gritty business of cooperation and compromise.

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