ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 26 - 10/22/2009

LEED Certification: Where Do I Begin?

What typically happens when a novice starts down the ski slope without taking skiing lessons? I have seen what can happen and it isn't pretty. In like manner, if one begins the journey towards LEED certification without a map of instructions, the path will undoubtedly be arduous and will likely lead to somewhere other than the LEED plaque -- the Holy Grail of green building certifications. (Every LEED-certified building is given an official plaque listing the building's level of certification.)

For reasons beyond my understanding, it is challenging for a novice to figure out how to get the information, guidance and help needed to certify a building. To magnify the margin of difficulty, many professionals do not know that the pursuit of LEED certification is as extensive as it is, so they do not allot enough project and office time to adequately accomplish the goal. And to make matters worse, once an office and/or owner goes through LEED the first time, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) revamps the whole system and everyone begins the journey anew to learn yet another steep learning curve. Below is my step-by-step recommended process based on work experience, a 200-level LEED class, and research regarding both the USGBC and LEED.


Set Aside Sufficient Training Time
Before delving into the process, set aside a significant span of time to become engrossed in the USGBC and LEED. Starting at the website is an easy first step. Read everything and watch the videos. Keep in mind that much of that information is designed for individuals who already have at least a rudimentary knowledge of LEED.


The website will leave you unprepared for a LEED certification project if you rely solely on it for direction and education. Remember, the USGBC and LEED are still quite new -- not even 20 year old yet -- so it is no surprise that the website leaves individuals in the dark in terms of where and how to make the first step.


Don't be flustered when finding out just how much is involved with LEED certification -- just plan accordingly. Rest assured, once your office has gone through the process half to a dozen times, LEED certification will become a regulated process (until the USGBC revamps the system again).


Attend Greenbuild 2009 Phoenix
The USGBC-sponsored annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo is a goldmine of information. This year's conference, with a keynote address from Al Gore, will be in Phoenix from Nov. 11-13. (Learn more at


With more than 100 sessions scheduled over the course of three days, even the conference may seem daunting. If you attend, make sure your itinerary includes a LEED preparatory class, especially the 100 through 300 level LEED workshops. With advance planning and proactive networking with like-minded professionals in the classes and the exhibit hall, the conference's pricey tuition will help build the necessary knowledge base to begin the building certification process.


Become Familiar with General Green Building Knowledge
Getting to know LEED is only the first step in applying for and achieving certification, but it is a very important first step. So, do not disregard the value of investing in green building knowledge sourced from many different organizations, authors and editors. The website has a list of related green building links. There are also a wide variety of magazines, journals, blogs, and association websites available online, in bookstores and on newsstands.


The In-House LEED Expert
To LEED certify a project, the office must allot nearly as much time to process paperwork and do related correspondence for the certification process as a manager would plan for the entire project design process itself. For this reason, many companies have a dedicated employee -- the LEED "go-to" person -- who offers consulting help to office personnel, clients, contractors, subcontractors, etc. This individual should be a LEED Accredited Professional or actively be working toward the credential). (More information about credentialing is available at Finally, your in-house LEED expert should stay abreast of LEED changes, as well as attend classes, workshops and conferences.


Current LEED Programs for Different Building Types
A building may be LEED certified under a number of different programs. Once a general knowledge for green building is captured, an office must then choose which of the following available LEED Programs will be used for each project:

  • LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations
  • LEED for Core and Shell
  • LEED for Schools
  • LEED for Retail for New Construction
By Stephanie Aurora Lewis, RA, LEED AP



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