California and LEED — No. 9 or No. 1?

The U.S. Green Building Council has tallied up new LEED buildings certified in states across the U.S. last year to see which are the most green-friendly, but the results, released on Wednesday may seem to some a bit skewed.

The organization that established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system for energy efficient and sustainable building design — and made it the gold standard for public and corporate buildings across the country — bases its top 11 list on square footage of LEED-certified space per capita.

On that basis, Washington, D.C., with 110 new LEED buildings totaling 22,246,445 square feet leads the pack with 36.97 square feet per capita. We’ll rack that up to government buildings, such as the LEED gold U. S. Mint Building (below)  and other national groups going green with large projects, and the district’s relatively small population.

There are only so many residents you can fit into a 10-mile square. Most of the people who work in D.C. and use those new buildings probably live in the surrounding suburbs.

Meanwhile, California, with 540 new LEED projects totaling 54,252,993 square feet only narrowly made the list at No. 9. Our per capita in 2012 was 1.46 square feet. Even though the state is absolutely No. 1 in number of projects and total square footage, we are penalized by our nation-leading population.

All that said, while I may gripe about USGBC’s figure juggling, there’s no arguing with the success of the LEED system. Almost any major city today is practically jammed with LEED projects, San Francisco being a case in point. Northern California has about 760 LEED projects.

This success is based not only on bottom-line savings on direct things such as energy use, but intangibles, such as building comfort and health of inhabitants.

Worldwide, more than 15,000 commercial projects have been certified under LEED, with more than 35,000 additional projects in the pipeline, totaling more than 10.3 billion square feet of space.