The LEED Green Associate, as a Viable Alternative for Architects and Other Design Professionals

Douglas P. Casper

December 2010

The LEED Green Associate, as a Viable Alternative for Architects and Other Design Professionals This is another article in a series that documents recent developments at the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and their recent spin-off, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). Readers will find out how these changes affect design professionals.

Last year … (2009) The 2009 Timeline allowed for individuals who were not members of Green Project Teams (in other words, working on a LEED Registered projects) to sit for the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) Accreditation exams. The deadline for this was extended from May 1st to the end of June, which resulted in a flurry of activity. AIA Long Island Chapter (LIC) offered a full day LEED AP Exam Prep course. Of the over 70 attendees, a number of them took and passed the exam and can now call themselves LEED AP. The next step in the process involves either becoming a LEED AP Legacy, which means essentially doing absolutely nothing and, then when the two year opportunity to become a LEED AP, with Specialty runs out – you “implode,” losing all your LEED credentials.

There exists another option! You can sign-in to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) website and register for “Credential Maintenance.” You also, at this point, select your specialty. Your choice consists of 1) Building Design + Construction (BD+C), 2) Commercial Interiors (CI), or 3) Operations + Energy Management (OEM). These categories roughly mimic similar categories that existed before (see chart below). LEED - Pre 2009 LEED 2009 Designation New Construction and Major Renovations Building Design + Construction - Homes Commercial Interiors Interior Design + Construction - Neighborhood Development Existing Buildings Operations + Maintenance

Of the categories, as they existed before, the overwhelming favorite was LEED NC (New Construction + Major Renovations). About 85% of the people who became LEED AP’s under Version 2.2 chose the NC category, with the other 15% divided roughly, evenly between the other three selections (EB, CS and CI) and it made no difference what category you were, related to the project type you were registering. That has all changed, now, with LEED 2009. When you sign up for Credential Maintenance – you have to select which specialty you want to be identified with. In this case, it has tremendous significance, because in order to register a project, now, your specialty has to match the appropriate specialty for whatever project type your project happens to be. Under this new approach – if you register a commercial interiors project under LEED 2009 – you must have a LEED ID+C as the project administrator. Interestingly, the LEED Reference Guides seem to be working in the opposite direction. They are consolidating and becoming more general, as opposed to becoming more specific, as the requirements for credentialing of the Project Administrator are becoming. Core + Shell and LEED Schools, for example, have been “folded-into” the LEED BD+C Reference Guide.

Advice for Individuals Interested in Becoming LEED AP’s Someone who wants to become a LEED Accredited Professional, at this point, can only pass through the “entrance portals” by being a member of a LEED Registered Project Team. If you are the Project Administrator and you’re taking on that role on the LEED Projects area of the USGBC Website, that is acceptable. Also acceptable would be if you are listed by the Project Administrator as a member of the team. If you are not listed in this manner – you would have to appeal to the USGBC to find out if a letter from a Principal from the architectural/ engineering firm that is the “lead” for the project – would be acceptable. Please note that eligibility requires only that the subject project be Registered under LEED, not Certified. (Of the roughly 10,000 commercial buildings that have been Registered – only about 3,000 have become Certified.) The fee to register a project is between $450 and $2,000, depending on the size of the project and the cost of construction. USGBC guides the administrator through a ten-step approval process, the successful outcome of which results in the awarding of a LEED Certification. The overall processing fees may go up to as high as $20,000, depending on the size of the project. What Is Involved with Credential Maintenance? Credential Maintenance is the process of accumulating USGBC Credits. These credits are accumulated in much the same manner, as are LU’s for Registered Architects or PDH’s for Professional Engineers. The actual requirement is for 30 credits every two years, with six of the 30 required to be “LEED Specific.” To be LEED Specific – at least 75% of that credit must be directly based on items in the rating system. For LEED Green Associates, the requirements are halved: 15 credits every two years, with three required to be “LEED Specific.” If you register for a course – make sure that it grants USGBC credits. In addition – attendees should receive Certificates of Completion. Put your Certificate in a safe place and maintain for at least six years – so that you can produce, should you be audited.

Please be advised that GBCI does not have a central record-keeping system, such as the one that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) maintains. AIA’s program tracks members’ Learning Units in a database, which is continually updated – every time a program is reported.

The LEED Green Associate Option For individuals who never took the LEED AP exam and are not working on any LEED Registered projects – there is another available option – take the LEED Green Associate Exam. This exam is a 100 question exam, which is two hours in length – a challenge, in its own right! The LEED Green Associate exam is now a prerequisite for taking the LEED AP exam.

Eligibility for this exam is a lot simpler than that which is required for the LEED AP exam. In this spirit, DPC ASSOCIATES encourages individuals working in design, construction, management and related industries (including vendors, facility managers & operations people) to sit for the exam. By taking the exam – you are demonstrating a familiarity with green principles that are needed for most, if not all, construction projects – going into the future.

How to Qualify for the Green Associate Exam One way to qualify is to take USGBC accredited courses. Another way of qualifying is to contribute knowledge or information to a LEED project. This is not as strenuous criteria as is the requirement for qualifying for the LEED AP exam.

DPC ASSOCIATES and other providers are now offering USGBC accredited courses. We are available to help individuals by fielding any questions to assist in speedily expediting the process of becoming a LEED Green Associate. Other Items: There are a number of classes now available, counting towards the 30 credits that must be accumulated, during the coming two year period. In order to get these credits, however, you must be registered online for the Credentialing Maintenance Program (CMP). If you have not yet done so, you must register, by the end of the day of the program you are planning to attend – in order to be able to receive the credit.

Attendees must add these classes to their area on the GBCI website (

There is an area in the logon area that asks for you to break the credit down by category. You can break the classes down however you see fit. The Categories are the same as the main LEED Categories (Water, Site, Energy, etc.).

This workshop will qualify you to sit for the LEED Green Associate Exam.

The following is excerpted from the Credentials Maintenance Program Guide:

Section 1: Professional development/continuing education courses For professional development/continuing education courses (which includes courses offered by any institution or association which is not intended to lead to a degree, including but not limited to workshops, career training, workforce training, or personal enrichment, such as those offered by an college or university’s extension school or an association): Professional development/continuing education courses must be ERB-approved and:

  • increase the competency of LEED Professionals;
  • follow current green building practices and provide correct program content;
  • be designed and instructed by persons qualified in the subject matter;
  • provide documentation of successful course completion to the LEED Professional from the ERB-approved course;
  • are at least 50 minutes of instructional time in length.

LEED Specific Requirements As you know 1/3rd of your CE credit must be in LEED Specific classes. We will write a new article in short order - after additional information regarding LEED Specific is made available by the USGBC. Right now, there are only 16 providers, nationwide offering LEED Specific credit. There are only 16 organizations, nationwide, including USGBC, Canada Green Buildings Council, and three USGBC chapters - that offer these credits at this time. A lot of these credits are only available via Distance Education or from Education Providers located far away from you, geographically, or who only offer a limited number of classes. There are very limited opportunities to obtain these credits. We will share new developments in this area with you, as they become available. This situation will change.