The value of green building expertise is rising as interest in sustainability grows among corporations, health care providers, educational institutions and other organizations. One way for a facility executive to demonstrate knowledge of green design, and to position themselves for a leadership role in their organization, is to become a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP).
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED AP is the only widely recognized designation that reflects green building knowledge. It isn’t an easy exam to pass, but taking the time to go through the accreditation process holds multiple benefits for facility executives — not the least of which is a more thorough understanding of the LEED rating systems themselves.
As recently as five years ago, LEED AP was a somewhat obscure credential found after the last names of a select few industry professionals. Now, more than 60,000 industry professionals carry the LEED AP designation.
There are several benefits to investing the time to become a LEED Accredited Professional. The most important is that the accreditation illustrates to the industry that you have an understanding of green building in general and LEED specifically. This builds credibility because it shows a grasp of current technologies and strategies.
But identifying the particular strategies and technologies that would be best for a particular building is not the only challenge on a green building project. Most people who have undertaken a LEED project acknowledge that there is also a learning curve for understanding how to submit the proper calculations and documentations to prove that LEED credits have been successfully completed.
What’s more, having a LEED AP as a member of the project team is worth one LEED point. It’s essentially a free point, because that particular point has been achieved on 100 percent of LEED projects to date. Facility executives may be able to reduce consulting fees if they become LEED accredited themselves.
Facility executives can become LEED APs by passing an 80 question multiple-choice examination. It’s important to remember that individuals can become LEED accredited, whereas the buildings that they work on can become LEED-certified. That difference is important to understand. The words “accredited” and “certified” are often used erroneously. For instance, some product manufacturers try to market their products as “LEED-certified,” or even their organization as “LEED-certified” if they hit a certain arbitrary threshold of LEED APs. Don’t be fooled. Only individuals can be LEED-accredited and only buildings can be LEED-certified.
As the LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC) system has evolved, the LEED AP exam has also changed. The technical information is updated with each exam upgrade, and the multiple-choice format has also changed slightly. The exam has become progressively harder with each new edition.
In addition to the LEED-NC accreditation exam, LEED AP exams for LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) are also available. The three examinations are the only LEED accreditations available at this time, although it’s possible that professional accreditation will be offered for other LEED programs like LEED for Homes and LEED for Schools in the future.
LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance is probably the most pertinent to facility executives because it can act as a blueprint for implementing sustainable facility management strategies. It’s always best that users take the exam that most closely relates to their professional careers, so for facility executives, becoming a LEED AP in LEED for Existing Buildings is a natural choice. The LEED-EB exam is slightly more complicated than the other two examinations, however, because LEED-EB includes more points than LEED-NC or LEED-CI.
Unlike other organizations that require continuing education units (CEUs) to keep professional registrations current, USGBC has never required continuing education to keep LEED AP status current. This is one of the system’s weaknesses. There are many LEED APs out there who passed the exam in the early days who have never had to prove that they are staying current with new technologies, strategies, best practices or even the new versions of LEED. The buzz around the industry is that USGBC will require CEUs in the future, but at this point there are no requirements to keep LEED accreditation current.
USGBC has recently turned administration of the LEED AP program over to a spin-off organization called the Green Building Certification Institute. The new organization will be in charge of ongoing development and revision of the LEED AP exam to ensure it stringency. The test can be taken at Prometric testing centers throughout the United States.
Although there are no particular requirements for how to prepare for the exam, there are several steps facility executives might consider.
USGBC publishes a reference guide for each of its LEED rating systems. These guides are meant to show project teams exactly how to achieve LEED credits and prepare submissions for them correctly. The reference guides are also excellent study tools for preparing for the LEED AP exam.
Many LEED AP candidates choose to prepare by attending a live LEED exam preparation seminar or by taking an online course of some type. A bit of advice: Watch out for companies offering LEED exam preparation services. Many of these firms are “training companies” that offer exam preparation for professional engineer exams, real estate or other professional accreditations or certifications, and they have added LEED exam preparation to their repertoire without any real knowledge of the LEED program.
Make sure that the LEED exam preparation provider has actual experience with LEED projects. There are currently more than 60,000 LEED Accredited Professionals out there, but only about 1,700 LEED-certified projects. In other words, the majority of LEED APs have never worked on a LEED project. Even building material suppliers are offering LEED exam preparation services for sale, taught by individuals who passed the LEED exam the week before. If you want to become a LEED AP, you’ll want a deeper understanding of the LEED system than can be offered by an inexperienced firm.
Be sure that an exam preparation provider is approved by USGBC under its “Education Provider Program” (EPP). USGBC introduced this program about a year ago, and it’s a good indicator of whether the training program meets minimum education objectives. The EPP designation will not, however, ensure that a provider has experience with a LEED project.
If you have a passion for sustainable design, construction or facility management, LEED professional accreditation can provide an effective framework for understanding of the green building industry while building credibility for yourself.
Charlie Popeck is the president of Green Ideas Environmental Building Consultants. The firm specializes in helping design, construction and facility management teams understand and implement building science and sustainability in their projects.