New LEED Credential Exams Test Skills and Sustainability

New LEED Credential Exams Test Skills and Sustainability

By Alexander M. Moss and Jesse G. Shallcross, K&L Gates, Chicago

Starting June 30, 2014, the updated LEED credential exams become available for practitioners who want to demonstrate their competency in green building principles and practices. The new exams incorporate LEED v4 content for the first time, which the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released last fall. See Erin Emery Hartz, LEED v4 credential exams coming June 2014, USGBC (Feb. 7, 2014). Specifically, the LEED Green Associate exam and LEED AP specialty exams feature the new rating system. See id. Several important changes to these exams reflect the growth of green building construction and development in the last several years, especially in Illinois.

The LEED AP certifications are designed for professionals who are working on LEED projects and have acquired expertise in green building and sustainability. See id. Originally, the AP exams did not evaluate LEED project experience within the exam itself. See id. Under the new format, exam questions will require proficiency in cognitive areas as well as particular skills involved in LEED processes. See id. For example, it is not enough for the candidate to simply know what LEED Online is, but rather he or she must know how to use it too. See How is project experience assessed within the LEED AP exam?, USGBC,  Notably, because the AP exams will now inherently evaluate experiential knowledge, the requirement to submit proof of LEED project experience at the time of the application is no longer necessary. Hartz, supra. However, the Green Building Certification Institute still encourages applicants to gain project experience in order to be successful on the skills-based portions of the exams. Id.

The exams will reflect LEED v4’s heightened focus on the lasting impacts of new buildings on the environment. One significant change under LEED v4 is the enhanced Materials and Resources category. LEED MR now includes credits for product optimization and disclosure as well as assessments of the structure’s life cycle in terms of climate change and nonrenewable energy sources. See Theresa Lehman, LEED Credential Exams to Feature v4 Material, Constructor Mag. (Mar. 26, 2014). Furthermore, the Indoor Environmental Quality credits will now include a low-emitting material credit that requires more sophisticated testing and monitoring procedures. See id. Overall, the LEED v4 changes align with the contemporary push for more sustainable and environmentally friendly human development.

As of September 2013, Illinois had the fourth-largest number of LEED-accredited professionals in the United States at 4,688 total credentials held. LEED Professionals at a Glance: September 2013, USGBC (Sep. 23, 2013). In February 2014, the USGBC revealed the top 10 states in the United States for LEED green building, and Illinois ranked first with over 29 million square feet certified, or 2.9 square feet certified per resident. Jacob Kriss, USGBC Releases the Top 10 States in Nation for LEED Green Building, USGBC (Feb. 18, 2014). Illinois ranked third in the top 10 in the number of buildings LEED-certified last year at 171. Id. Only California (595) and New York (259) had more LEED projects. Id. Some of the top LEED projects in Illinois included the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, a 57-story tower on LaSalle Street in Chicago, the Caterpillar Visitors Center in Peoria, and Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Illinois Leads Nation in “Green” Buildings, NBC CHICAGO (Feb. 19, 2014, 12:15 PM).

The demand for LEED-certified buildings in Illinois and the rest of the United States creates an incentive for construction industry professionals to consider becoming LEED accredited. It remains to be seen whether the new version requirements and exam content will significantly impact the number of new applicants seeking certification. For those who do decide to take the tests, the LEED v4 credentials can be one effective way to express a commitment to green building practices in the 21st century.

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