"Being a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) has now become a full-time job," says Beth Holst, vice president of credentialing,Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). Ten years ago, working on a LEED-certified project was a novelty. Today, it is the everyday norm at many design firms. In fact, reasons for LEED's 2009 changes and updates, released earlier this year, are in direct response to the skyrocketing population of LEED APs and LEED-certified projects.
In this latest iteration of the LEED program, the LEED AP exam structure was changed to accommodate not only the expanding the number of professionals but also the increased types of green experts seeking credentials from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). A Green Associate accreditation is the first tier level. According to the GBCI website, the exam is available to anyone who has some "form of involvement on a LEED-registered project, employment (or previous employment) in a sustainable field of work, or engagement in (or completion of) an education program that addresses green building principles." This designation is typically attractive to students and employees of companies that operate as LEED-focused suppliers and manufacturers. The credential requires a biannual completion of 15 hours of green building education courses.
The second tier, and most popular accreditation, is the LEED Accredited Professional, or LEED AP. This level requires a more practical application of LEED philosophies, as well as a current working knowledge of LEED projects. To be eligible to take this exam, the applicant must submit supervisor or client verifications of time spent and duties performed while working on LEED-registered projects. In addition to passing the Green Associate and one of five AP specialty exams (discussed below), a LEED AP must also complete 30 hours of continuing education courses biannually.
The third tier belongs to the LEED AP Fellow. Specific requirements for this highest accreditation have not yet been released, but generally speaking, the title is awarded through a peer evaluation after considering a LEED AP's significant contributions to sustainability practices and the green building industry during the course of his or her career. An additional exam is not required.
New and Improved Exams
The first versions of the LEED AP exams, available as early as 2004, were criticized for their ease and high passing rates. The early exams were written for professionals at all levels, from the real estate agent to the registered architect. The exam consisted primarily of environmental knowledge, construction knowledge and LEED's program requirements and procedures.
LEED v3 2009 requires an approved application before the applicant may sit for the exam. Furthermore, not only are the exams lengthier and more difficult, if failed, the applicant must wait at least six months to retake it.
At present, there are multiple tiered exams that aim to qualify a professional more directly to his or her specific job. The specialty exams are separated into five categories, which correspond with the LEED rating systems:
- Operations & Maintenance (O&M)
- Homes (HOMES)
- Building Design & Construction (BD&C)
- Interior Design & Construction (ID&C)
- Neighborhood Development (ND)
Therefore, a LEED AP who specializes in one of these five categories is also regarded as an expert within that specific rating system.
Grandfathered LEED APs
Professionals who already have the LEED AP designation have the option to carry their title over to the AP Building Design & Construction category. They simply need to register with LEED as a grandfathered candidate. If existing LEED APs register with the new program, they gain a LEED AP-BD&C (Accredited Professional in Building Design & Construction) title, indicating they are experts in the new LEED program for New Construction. (The original LEED exam focused on New Construction because that was the only rating system available at the time of its inception.)
Once a LEED AP registers with the new program, he or she is then eligible to take any of the other specialty exams. The LEED AP title will not be taken away from a professional who chooses to decline enrolling in the new LEED AP tiered system.
Also new, all newly re-registered APs must maintain their certification through 30 hours of continuing education credits every two years along with a yearly enrollment fee, which is currently set at a biennial $50. Or, they may forgo the education credits and retake the exam at least three months before their accreditation expires.
Keeping Up with an Evolving Industry
The new tiered LEED AP exam system is designed to better relate to an expanding number of green accredited professionals. The exams are also designed to be more difficult and thus more credible than their reputation has been in past years. Lastly, the continuing education credits will hopefully keep LEED APs updated and accountable for enhancing their green building knowledge.
For more information on the three LEED AP tiers and their associated fees and professional requirements, click here, or visit http://www.gbci.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=104
by Stephanie Aurora Lewis, RA, LEED AP