Evan Matzen, Manager, Sustainability


About two years ago, I was working in the renewable energy and energy efficiencyindustries, and had a lot of customers interested in achieving LEED points for their renewable energy purchase. In researching the qualifications I learned that LEED certifies buildings and also offers professional accreditations. In order to speak intelligently about the LEED process to my customers, I decided that I should become a LEED Accredited Professional. What I didn’t realize is how much I had to learn in order to earn it.

So, what is LEED?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an internationally known performance-based rating system for green buildings, established by the U.S. Green Building Council or the USGBC. The USGBC is a nonprofit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how building are designed, built, and operated. (I even had the pleasure of meeting one of the co-founders of the USGBC last year at their annual conferenceGreenbuild!)hold_globe

The LEED building certification is a prescriptive point-based program that clearly defines steps that must be taken in order to create a more sustainable building through all aspects of the building. There are different qualifications for each type of building, like new construction, existing buildings, schools, core & shells, homes, etc.  A building earns points on areas such as site selection, water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality,and how construction- and operation-generated waste is disposed. There is even a point for sourcing local products. The more points a project earns, the higher the level of certification it will receive. There are four levels of certification: Certified (40–49 points), Silver (50–59 points), Gold (60–79 points), and Platinum (80 points and above), with 100 points being a perfect score. Some prerequisites for each category are mandatory to receive any level of certification. When working in renewable energy, I helped achieve points in the Energy & Atmosphere category by either purchasing renewable energy or installing renewable generation systems on-site.

A number of different LEED building programs are available, ranging from New Construction to Existing Building Operation and Maintenance. You can read about all the programs on USGBC’s website.

So, let’s talk about how LEED professional accreditation. There are two levels of professional certification: Green Associate and Accredited Professional (AP). The Green Associate exam consists of 100 questions that test you on five categories: Sustainable Sites, Energy & Atmosphere, Water Efficiency, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality.

Our Associate Manager of Sustainability, Kelly Ogden, who wrote two weeks ago about composting, is a LEED Green Associate. If you are interested in this professional certification, her advice is to purchase exam study guides from the organization that administers the exams and certification (the Green Building Certification Institute or GBCI) or from a third party. We also think it is important to also find companies that offer online practice tests. We found those practice tests to be the most helpful.

Once you pass your LEED Green Associate exam, you can move on to the LEED AP exam. You are allowed to take both tests at the same time, but most people do not because candidates for LEED AP also need documented experience on a registered or certified LEED project. Most people typically don’t get that kind of experience until they have become a LEED Green Associate. After you have the experience, you need to select a specialty (I chose Operations and Maintenance) and the exam you take will be centered on that specialty. The LEED AP exam is more detail oriented and challenging than the LEED Green Associate exam, although neither is easy, but similar study tools are out there to help you through it. You can find a complete list of eligibility requirements for each of the specialties on the GBCI website.

Why would you want to become LEED-accredited?

From my personal experience I can tell you that going through the process made me a whole lot more knowledgeable about green building, and provided me the tools and vocabulary to speak with our customers who are interested in making their property more sustainable or even having their building LEED-certified. It also provides you networking opportunities with the USGBC, which is a great organization to be involved with. I have attended their networking and education sessions here in San Diego, and have met other people working in the sustainability industry and learned a lot. Becoming LEED-accredited can also help if you are looking for a sustainable job position. More and more job postings are referencing being LEED-accredited as a plus, if not a requirement.


Have you taken the LEED building certification or professional accreditation plunge? What was your experience?

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