LEED is the Worst, Part IV: its Authorities Aren’t
November 12, 2010 § 3 Comments
Change a few words and the Prime Minister’s commentary on democracy could easily be applied to LEED. The USGBC’s system is barely ten years old, yet it has been has been remarkably successful in transforming the public’s view of architecture and the market for architectural goods.
But on the way to greatness the good folks at USGBC decided to anoint a massive cadre of eager but largely inexperienced green building enthusiasts as masters of the craft. And they did it in a way that, in my view, fundamentally misleads building owners.
LEED creates false experts.
For years the USGBC has claimed that “LEED Accredited Professionals are experienced building industry practitioners who have demonstrated their knowledge of integrated design…” and are individuals “…holding a firm understanding of green building practices and principles…”7 Yet until recently, there there were no prerequisites for taking the test that vaulted one into this esteemed club: the LEED AP exam. None.8 For the 2005 exam, answering just 39 of the 73 questions correctly made you a winner. That’s right, 53% was a passing score. In every high school in the nation, 53% is an F. Not for the USGBC.
Things have improved somewhat. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) has taken over professional accreditation management. There are now five different AP credentials. Continuing education is required. The minimum passing test score has gone up a whopping eight points to 61%9 (a D by high school standards). Oh, and there is now a prerequisite for sitting for the AP exam — applicants must demonstrate involvement on a LEED project. That’s a step in the right direction, but what about the 120,000+ folks6 that already wear the LEED AP badge? There are only about 4,700 LEED-certified buildings in the world5. How many existing LEED APs have actually played a significant role in a LEED project let alone seeing one through to the end?
Today, many RFPs require LEED APs. Clients accept the credential as a genuine indication of experience and knowledge. The GBCI still claims that (emphasis added):
A LEED Professional Credential provides employers, policymakers, and other stakeholders with assurances of an individual’s level of competence and is the mark of the most qualified, educated, and influential green building professionals in the marketplace.10
This is a serious claim. GBCI seems to be saying that they can promise that LEED APs are not just competent, but the most qualified individuals to practice integrated design of green buildings. …most qualified to practice design… So the architectural licensing board is no longer needed? I have a hard time believing the lawyers signed off on that one.
In reality, for the vast majority of current LEED APs, accreditation means they have passed a test to show they can remember key aspects of a 500 page manual on administering the LEED documentation process – in effect, that they can read and interpret a complicated phone book. Until very recently the majority of exam content areas addressed administration of the LEED system with no substantive content addressing sustainability or design. The four tested areas were:
- Knowledge of LEED Credit Intents and Requirements
- Coordinate Project and Team
- Implement LEED Process
- Verify, Participate In, and Perform Technical Analyses Required for LEED Credits
This does not mean LEED Accreditation is useless or pointless for the individuals pursuing it. It’s a way to join the club, to participate in the excitement, and to learn a great deal about green building. If you can read, absorb, and understand all the referenced standards in the LEED Reference Guide you will be a walking encyclopedia of green building, even if you can’t tell a VAV box from a catch basin. I endorse accreditation. Everyone should be a LEED AP. And to its credit, GBCI has added substantive sustainable design components to the exam, expanded the range of accreditation options, and even begun to acknowledge, with the launch of the LEED Fellow program, that experience actually matters.
But with all this, many if not most owners are still being misled. Being a LEED AP is a good thing for the individual, it may help projects achieve certification more easily, but it does not substitute for knowledge, experience, or true credentials. And it doesn’t make you an expert in anything.
What do you think?
Kevin Pierce, AIA, LEED AP, CEM
note: this post is the fourth of a multi-part critique of LEED. Look for future posts in the coming weeks.
Part III <
Kevin is Managing Director of Shaw Sustainable Design Solutions of Illinois, LLC, — an integrated firm providing comprehensive sustainable design services. He is involved in projects nation-wide in energy efficiency, green infrastructure, clean energy, and green building. Kevin is Chairman of the Resource Center, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on urban agriculture and extreme recycling, adjunct associate professor at a the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a board member of American Institute of Architects, Illinois.
1. The Official Report, House of Commons (5th Series), 11 November 1947, vol. 444, cc. 206–07. (via WikiQuote)
2. p.ES-8, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008, Executive Summary (PDF), USEPA, April 2010
3. LEED 2009 for New Construction and Major Renovation Checklist. Four credits reward reduced driving: Sustainable Sites credit 2, 4.1, 4.2, and 4.4. for a total of 14 potential points. Twelve credits relate to energy reduction: WE prerequisite 1, credits 1, 3; EA prerequisite 1, 2, credits 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; EQ credits 6.1 and 8.1. for a total of 43 potential points.
4. p. 2, Energy Performance of LEED® for New Construction Buildings, New Buildings Institute (for USGBC), March 2008. Note that this is a comparison with comparable existing buildings, not code. How close does the average existing building come to meeting the energy code? Are LEED buildings saving ANY energy?
5. USGBC LEED Certified Projects List as of 8/1/2010.
6. GBCI LEED Professional Directory. As of May 9, 2010, there are 123,056 LEED APs in the US.
7. p 474, LEED Reference Guide for Green Building Operations and Maintenance, 2009 Edition
9. Per the 2010 LEED AP Building Design + Construction Candidate Handbook: “All LEED Professional exams are marked according to a scale where 125 is the lowest mark attainable and 200 is the highest mark attainable. If you receive a scaled score of 170 or higher on both parts of the exam, you earn the LEED AP designation.”
10. GBCI LEED Professional Credentials web page