Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary points-based system for judging and certifying green buildings, but it’s long been the standard for determining whether a building, city or state is at for forefront of environmentally friendly design and construction. Today, the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization that developed and administers LEED certifications, announced its annual list of the top 10 states for new LEED certifications in 2012–and Massachusetts cracked the top five.

Coming in at No. 4, Massachusetts had more than 13 million square feet of LEED-certified space in 2012, or 2.05 feet per capita. There are now more than 470 certified buildings in Massachusetts, 106 of which were certified in 2012 alone. Of particular note is the Atlantic Wharf, which obtained a Platinum certification–the USGBC’s highest level possible–making it Boston’s first LEED skyscraper.

Topping the list was Washington, D.C., which had an impressive 37 square feet of LEED certified space per capita in 2012. Other states on the list included Virginia (ranked #2), Colorado (#3), Illinois (#5) , New York (#7) and California (#9).

“Securing a spot on this list is a remarkable achievement for everyone involved in the green building movement in these states,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair, USGBC, in a statement. “From architects and designers to local chapter advocates, their collective efforts have brought sustainable building design and use to the forefront of the national discussion on the environment, and I applaud their efforts to create a healthier present and future for the people of their states.”

Massachusetts moved up three positions from last year–no doubt a laudable achievement for a state that places a premium on innovative urban living solutions and architectural sustainability.

When it comes to mixed-use buildings located in a city’s downtown core, such as the Atlantic Wharf, LEED certification is largely an admirable and worthwhile achievement, as it encourages architects and engineers to consider the environmental impact of a building before any concrete is poured or foundations laid.

But it’s not without its critics. Kaid Benfield of The Atlantic Cities, for example, recently wrote a thorough and thoughtful article on some of the reasons LEED certification isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. As a third-party verification system, Benfield argues, LEED must keep its standards within reach of applicants, or the certification simply won’t be worth the price of documentation and a formal review.

Similarly, some critics contend that there’s too high an emphasis on acquiring the highest certification status possible–points tallied decide whether a project attains the ranks of certified, silver, gold or platinum. Instead of striving to create the greenest building possible, some buildings simply go after “low-hanging fruit to rack up a good score, even if the underlying measure doesn’t result in a significant environmental improvement.”

Some of Benfield’s criticisms apply mostly to large, lavish homes that obtain LEED certification and much praise–like the stunning home pictured below, located in Nevada–despite obvious environmental downsides, such as great distances to public transportation and massive square footage. But apartment buildings, skyscrapers and office complexes fall into his sights as well.

Either way, Massachusetts’ placement on this list should be looked at positively. Even if the ranking system isn’t without its “warts,” as Benfield calls them, I would posit that when it comes to development–out in the burbs or in the middle of Boston–even some green is better than no green at all.

Images via The New American Home