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POLICYWATCH:
Path to LEED Accreditation Shifts

New rigor and some red tape come with the new AIA and LEED AP education requirements.

03/2009

By Tristan Roberts

The popularity of the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) credential, which is open to all professions, has led to the accreditation of over 77,000. By the time the current version of the program is retired later this spring, it is likely that the number of LEED APs will surpass the membership of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a fairly stable 83,000. While AIA membership is not directly comparable to holding the LEED AP credential, the momentum behind the program is remarkable.

LEED Accreditation
Image © Dan Page
New rigor and some red tape come with the new AIA and LEED AP education requirements.
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The proliferation of LEED APs has come amid concerns about the program’s lack of rigor, so a major overhaul of the program arriving in late spring should not come as a surprise. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a nonprofit sister to the U.S. Green Building Council, announced its plans to assume leadership of the program at Greenbuild in November 2008. At the same time, effective January 2009, the AIA made sustainability a requirement for its continuing education (CEU) program, ensuring that all architects will need to integrate green building at least into their education, if not their practices.

In its early years, the LEED AP exam was criticized for being too easy. Today, candidates face a complex multiple-choice exam. New requirements will address continued criticism that acing that exam requires memorizing the LEED reference guide rather than acquiring a deeper understanding of sustainability or actual LEED project experience.

In a new three-tiered system, the lowest-tier LEED Green Associate must only pass a basic exam. The second tier will be the equivalent of the current LEED AP credential, although applicants will not only need to pass a new exam currently being written by GBCI, but also demonstrate recent LEED project experience. Professionals credentialed at this level will be assigned a specialty corresponding to the various LEED rating systems. The third tier, the LEED AP Fellow, similar to the FAIA postnomial, will be an honor bestowed on select individuals.

Existing, or “legacy” LEED APs can opt in to the new system with little hassle, but professionals new and old alike will find a few new requirements. A disciplinary policy will give GBCI the ability to ensure that LEED APs respect its rights and avoid actions that portray the program in a bad light. More significant are new CEU requirements—15 hours for Green Associates and 30 hours for LEED APs, biennially. To pay for supporting all of this, there is a new application fee in addition to the exam fee and a maintenance fee.

Architectural registration has also seen some recent fine-tuning to address the green imperative. The AIA previously required at least eight annual CEUs focused on health, safety, and welfare—now members must devote four of those hours specifically to sustainable design, at least until 2012, when the AIA will reevaluate the requirement. Since the announcement in 2008, the AIA has had the task of screening 40,000 continuing-education programs for their sustainability content. Of those, 13,000 make mention of green building, LEED, or sustainability. Details have not emerged on whether the AIA and GBCI will coordinate their efforts to allow professionals to simultaneously earn continuing education credits with both programs.

Thomas Lowther, senior director of continuing education systems at the AIA, said that the organization’s requirements reflect the significance with which it views sustainability. Architects have grumbled about the change; comments on an online announcement variously lauded it, complained about it as a complication, and called it “communist.” Lowther indicated, however, that it is simply a tool for the profession to become aware of and meet environmental goals. “If you want to change behavior, change the requirements,” he said.

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This article appeared in the March 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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