The Israel Standards Institute and the Environmental Protection Ministry yesterday published the latest standards for ecological construction, which for the first time comply with accepted international requirements in this area.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said his ministry will monitor projects billed by developers as 'green' and will make public the names of companies that fail to meet the new standards.

The standards, which were determine in cooperation with bodies such as the nonprofit organization the Israeli Green Building Council, address issues including energy and water use, waste recycling and the use of recycled building materials and nontoxic paints. Buildings will be given an environmental star rating, from one to five.

The new standards apply to nearly every kind of new construction. They also include, for the first time, standards for older buildings that have been renovated, though these are more lenient than the ones for new structures.

"We have set the new standard to conform to conditions in Israel," Galit Cohen, Deputy Director General of the Environmental Protection Ministry, said at yesterday's launch ceremony. "Therefore, the realm of energy, including insulation and use of systems like central air conditioning to save electricity, constitute 37 percent of the total score," she said. The accepted percentage for energy abroad is between 20 percent and 22 percent.

Only 10 buildings in Israel conform to the previous standard. An additional 10 are being built to meet the new standard.

Erdan said government incentives will be needed to increase the number of buildings complying with the standard, such as tax breaks for tenants.

"These incentives will have to be directed mainly at poorer people, who are in particular need of homes like these that save water and money in the long run," Erdan said.

The cost obstacle

The main obstacle to environmentally sound construction methods is the potential higher cost. Speakers at yesterday's ceremony, however, said they added only a few percent to the cost of a home.

The ministry's Sustainable Built Environment adviser, Yonatan Elazar, said the cost of ecological construction has declined since standards were first introduced.

According to the Israel Standards Institute, the average Israeli family living in an SBE-compliant building can save NIS 1,200 a year on electricity and NIS 300 on water.

A government-funded pilot is set to begin shortly in which a few dozen homes will be retrofitted to meet the new standards.

The standard is not mandatory, although officials said yesterday it has already raised the bar toward more environmentally sound construction. Shlomi Hasson, who headed one of the expert committees formulating the new standards, said he believes they should be obligatory. "Most contractors in Israel could reach one star with very little effort," Hasson said.