LEED Professional Accreditation

Sept. 16, 2011

LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building rating system, has evolved.  LEED version 2009 brought many changes to a help further market transformation. Some of the changes were in the rating systems themselves. Points became more difficult to achieve under each framework and the accompanying reference guides raised the bar.

LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building rating system, has evolved.  LEED version 2009 brought many changes to a help further market transformation. Some of the changes were in the rating systems themselves. Points became more difficult to achieve under each framework and the accompanying reference guides raised the bar.

The USGBC also took the variety of diverse frameworks that developed over time (like LEED for New Construction, LEED for Existing Buildings and LEED for Core + Shell, etc.) and aligned them under one consistent format. Now, all of the rating systems have the same general criteria and a consistent number of points associated with certification, e.g. 80+ are required to attain a Platinum certification in all of the rating systems. The USGBC’s other big change was in professional accreditations.

The original LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) designation meant that an individual had passed a general exam centered on green building practices and principles as they relate to the LEED rating systems. Unfortunately, this didn’t provide any specific information about that person’s knowledge base.

For projects seeking LEED certification, having a LEED AP on your team meant that you could gain a point under Innovation and Design (ID credit 2), but it didn’t offer any assurances that this person was familiar with the particular project type or relevant sustainable strategies. In response to the goal of moving the market forward, the USGBC decided to distinguish LEED APs from each other by creating accreditation specialties, and moved the process (along with certification) to a new entity, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

LEED Designations

If you’re not familiar with LEED accreditation designations, the stream of letters on a professional’s business card can be pretty confusing: LEED AP, LEED GA, LEED BD+C, LEED ID+C, LEED EB: O+M, etc.

Although it’s the older designation, you’ll still see LEED AP a lot. It’s referred to as a LEED accredited professional without specialty. If you are looking to hire someone for a retrofit or new project and they only have a LEED AP without specialty designation, be sure you ask the right questions to make sure they are a good fit for your job. LEED APs without specialty were not required to take continuing education classes, so someone might have received the designation years ago and may not be familiar with more current approaches.

Find out how many recent projects they worked on. Have them describe the type of projects they were involved on, and ask them to name any unique strategies the project implemented. Also be aware that LEED 2012 is in the works, and LEED APs without specialty won’t be able to attain ID credit 2 in the upcoming version of LEED.  This credit will be reserved for LEED APs with specialty only.

The LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) is completely new. For those starting out in the process, this is now the first step toward accreditation. LEED GAs have passed the LEED GA Exam and have foundational knowledge of green building principals, LEED certification, and an understanding of the USGBC and GBCI processes. They will grasp the environmental impacts of buildings and operations and have a broad understanding of how to shift these to more positive outcomes.

A LEED GA is required to complete credentialing maintenance hours through continuing education to stay apprised of the latest information, as technology and practices change so rapidly. Also be aware that because LEED GAs aren’t accredited professionals, they don’t meet the requirements of ID credit 2.

The next level of accreditation is LEED AP with specialty.  LEED APs without specialty can “opt in” through prescriptive credentialing maintenance program (CMP) of continuing education classes or by passing the specialty exam without having to take the LEED GA exam first. Each designation relates to a particular project type and directly deals with the points within that particular reference guide. For example, building design and construction is LEED AP BD+C; interior design and construction is LEED AP ID+C; existing buildings: operations and maintenance is LEED AP EB: O+M, etc. LEED APs with specialty must acquire more credentialing maintenance hours than a LEED GA. 

When a LEED GA attains LEED AP with specialty, their designations and required credentialing maintenance hours are essentially combined so a person doesn’t have to fulfill different tracts of classes for each designation.  That said, each designation has unique credentialing maintenance requirements related to the specialty.

It’s important to note that the GBCI has established end date enrollment windows for LEED APs without specialty. Each individual has an assigned specific date between August 1 and October 27, 2011 for which to enroll in the LEED AP with specialty accreditation.   After this time, LEED APs without specialty will have to take the LEED GA exam first if they want to obtain a specialty designation.

Is Accreditation for You?

Certainly, understanding the distinctions between LEED AP without specialty, LEED GA and LEED AP with specialty is critical if you are hiring someone to help with a LEED project, but you might want to consider getting accreditation yourself.

 A basic LEED GA would raise your awareness of what’s happening in the marketplace and make you more hireable or increase your value within your organization. Green building is not going to go away and a LEED GA might get you a step closer to your long-term goals. Also, LEED GA’s required credentialing maintenance hours will help ensure your knowledge base progresses with market innovations – something that could otherwise easily fall by the wayside in a facility manager’s busy schedule.

Attaining a LEED AP with Specialty isn’t for everybody, but it does offer advantages. For example, you might want to become a LEED AP EB: O+M because it will help you look at your building as a whole and better manage operations, procurement and waste. If you tend to do more tenant fit outs and small building retrofits, you might want to become a LEED AP ID+C. If you have a LEED Core + Shell building that mandates tenants to do LEED CI, you could become their LEED AP. It would make it easier for the tenant because they wouldn’t have to hire a LEED consultant, and you could be an unbiased resource to their architecture firm.

The USGBC is always looking to the future. LEED 2012 will have stricter requirements in order to achieve credits. As you look to hire a consultant, new member of your green team or consider becoming accredited yourself, knowing what the LEED accreditations offer will be increasingly important.

Alicia Snyder-Carlson, LEED AP ID+C, IIDA Associate is a Project Consultant at Green Building Services Inc., one of the most comprehensive sustainable consulting firms in the nation. She facilitates LEED certification and the incorporation of green building strategies to companies throughout the United States. Alicia can be reached at 866-743-4277 [email protected].

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