Last Thursday I took--and passed--the LEED accreditation exam. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a performance-based rating system for green buildings established by the U.S Green Building Council. It has come to be accepted as the benchmark for green building, and covers all aspects of a building, from materials, to energy, water and building operation. LEED is on the minds of many people in the building industry these days, and employers are looking to bolster their green credentials any way possible, including having employees that are LEED accredited. Becoming a LEED accredited professional (LEED AP) gets your name listed on a directory of LEED APs and gives you more credibility to employers or clients. Another benefit is that I can now sign my name Andy Posner, LEED AP. (Okay, it's not like having a PhD, but it's not bad!)
How LEED Works
I studied for about a month to pass the exam, which consists of 80 questions covering all aspects of the rating system. The way LEED works is that the points are broken down into 5 topic areas: Sustainable Sites; Energy & Atmosphere; Water Efficiency; Materials and Resources; and Indoor Air Quality. A final category rewards efforts that don't fall under the other topic areas. Within each category, points are awarded for achieving environmental performance. For instance, 1-10 points can be earned under Energy & Atmosphere, depending on the energy-efficiency of the building. Each category has pre-requisites that must be met, and depending on how many points the project is awarded a building can be rated anywhere from LEED certified to LEED platinum. (Learn more about how LEED works here.)Anyone can become a LEED AP. Definitely don't think it's limited to architects and engineers! For instance, I majored in Spanish Language and Culture, yet with a solid amount of studying I was able to understand the material without too much difficulty. I took the LEED for Existing Buildings exam (LEED has different rating systems, including LEED for Neighborhood Development, LEED for New Construction, etc.) and I read through the entire 400 page study manual twice in order to gain a solid understanding of the credits and the synergies between them.
Taking the Exam
On the day of the exam, I rode my bike 10 miles to the testing site, which is located just across from the main airport serving Rhode Island. I had actually never ridden to the airport, but fortunately my GPS unit got me there with no problems. Since the exam is computerized you get your results immediately after; I was very relieved to have passed!
I'm glad that I went through the entire process. I now have an excellent understanding of how LEED works as well as what it means for a building to be green. For instance, one might think that efficient light bulbs, solar panels and some insulation is enough, but LEED points out that buildings require a lot of energy, water and resources to build, maintain and operate, and every aspect of the building presents opportunities for saving money, reducing negative impacts and improving the health, comfort and safety of building occupants. That said, getting the LEED accreditation isn't exactly cheap: for non-USGBC members, the cost for the exam is $400, and the reference guide needed to study for the exam is $200. However, given that I am planning to start an environmental consulting company after I complete my masters degree, I feel the money was well worth it.
More on LEED
Ambrose Hotel First to Earn LEED for Existing Buildings
Adobe Achieves LEED Platinum
U.S. Green Building Council
Boston's Logan Airport Gets LEED Certification
Big Steps in Building: Make LEED Mandatory for Condos
Return on Green: LEED Proves Its Worth in Resale