LEED Certification

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a ratings system that certifies buildings as meeting established standards of energy sustainability and environmental friendliness, both in their interior environments and in their effect on the surrounding ecology. It was created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to promote sustainable, environmentally friendly building design. A building or construction project that receives a sufficiently high score on the USBGC's LEED checklist is awarded a certificate signifying its level of compliance with the LEED standards. Depending on the degree to which a building project meets the standards, it can be awarded anything from a simple certificate for a minimum level of compliance to a platinum certificate for meeting the highest possible standards.

Take the Practice Tests:

While the LEED rating system was developed by the USGBC, the LEED Professional Accreditation program, which administers the LEED ratings exams and awards the certificates, is run by a separate organization: the Green Buildings Certification Institute (GBCI). There are 110 possible points in the LEED rating system, and the awarding of those items by the GBCI is determined by a checklist of qualifications against which a building project is evaluated. In addition, there are a few prerequisite items that a building must meet to qualify for LEED certification, regardless of how many checklist items it merits.

The first 100 checklist points are divided into five different areas:

  1. Sustainable Sites
  2. Water Efficiency
  3. Energy and Atmosphere
  4. Materials and Resources
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality

An additional ten bonus points are given for Innovation and Design (creative solutions to environmental problems) and Regional Priority (special qualifications uniquely important in the region where the building project is located), raising the total potential score to 110 points.

Leed Experts

In addition to certifying buildings for their environmentally friendly design, the GBCI certifies individuals as experts in various aspects of LEED. If you are involved in construction, architecture, interior design, or building operations and maintenance, a certificate demonstrating your expertise as a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) can greatly enhance your prospects of obtaining a high-paying job in the building industry or of increasing your standing in a job you already have. (In fact, building projects with at least one LEED-certified professional on their staff are automatically given an extra point toward project certification, so LEED certification automatically makes a qualifying individual into a valuable asset for construction-industry employers.)

LEED testing and certificates for individuals are available in each of the following areas, most of which are for LEED APs (Accredited Professionals:

  • LEED Green Associate
  • LEED AP Building Design and Construction
  • LEED AP Interior Design and Construction
  • LEED AP Operations and Maintenance
  • LEED AP Homes
  • LEED AP Neighborhood Development

LEED AP Exam Certification Process

The LEED exam certification process consists of several steps. If successful, it will result in your being awarded a LEED AP (or Associate) certificate in the specialty of your choice. The steps are as follows:

Applying for the Exam

To begin the application process, you must use your Web browser to log on to the Green Building Certification Institute’s (GBCI’S) My Credentials Web site. Unless you already have an account on this site, you’ll need to click on the “First Time Here?” button to go through the registration process and established your user name and password. You may then proceed through the application process, which will include selecting the type of credit or debit card that you will use to pay the exam fee. During the application, you will need to establish your eligibility for taking the LEED certification exam. See LEED Certification Requirements for more details on what these requirements are and how you may establish them to the GBCI.

Preparing for the Exam

Before taking the exam, you should prepare yourself with knowledge of what the exam will cover. It is strongly advised that you obtain a study guide for the appropriate LEED exam to maximize your chances of receiving a passing score.

Arriving at the Testing Center

During registration, you’ll be given a date, time, and location for your exam. You will need to bring identification with you. This should be a valid, unexpired photo ID. This could be a driver’s license, a passport, or a military ID. In addition, you may combine a signed credit card or check card with a signed student ID, employment ID, or alien ID to achieve appropriate identification. You may not use an expired ID or Social Security Card, and any form of ID that you use must have a printed expiration date making clear its currently unexpired status. The first and last names on the ID must match those that you gave on the My Credentials site when registering for the test. If a nickname was used in registration, it must also be used on the ID.

Taking the Exam

The LEED exams are computer administered. You do not need extensive computer knowledge to take the test, and a tutorial will be given in advance to prepare candidates for using the software. You should arrive thirty minutes before your scheduled exam time to give yourself an opportunity to check in and begin the tutorial. If you arrive after the exam time, you will be turned away and will need to reschedule. You will not be allowed to bring bags, food, books, or other materials to the workstation. Lockers will be provided to check in any objects (other than your ID) that you have brought with you to the testing center. You may not leave your workstation during the exam without asking for permission.

After the LEED AP Exam

Your score will be processed within seventy-two hours of completing the exam. If you pass, you will receive formal notification and a certificate from the GBCI within two to three months, though information about your results will be available on the My Credentials Web site after your score has been calculated. The exams are scored in the range of 125 to 200, and you must receive a score of at least 170 to qualify for LEED AP certification in your chosen specialty.

Why Become Certified?

In the highly competitive fields of building and construction, interior design, and building maintenance, a LEED AP certificate is a valuable asset not only for finding and holding a job but for receiving higher salaries than the industry norm. LEED Accredited Professionals command a premium on the job market.

The following are benefits of having a LEED AP certificate:

  1. It will allow you to offer valuable advice to a building, design, and maintenance team on green practices and specific advice on those aspects of construction and maintenance that will allow a building project to achieve a high score in the LEED rating system, including the coveted Platinum Certificate.
  2. Employers in the building industry who hire a LEED AP certified professional to work on a project automatically receive one point toward a LEED certificate, giving you value beyond the expertise that you bring to the job.

Green Building Basics

What, in the eyes of the Green Buildings Certification Institute (GBCI), makes a building project green? The formula is hardly a secret. The GBCI spells it out in their checklist. Essentially, a green building project is one that:

  • minimizes any negative impact on its environment
  • preserves natural ecosystems
  • enhances rather than degrades the neighborhood in which it is built
  • uses water efficiently
  • uses clean forms of energy generation
  • uses recycled or regionally produced materials
  • uses rapidly renewable resources and reuses existing building sites
  • provides a healthy, comfortable, and attractive indoor environment for its occupants

The LEED standards cover the construction of new buildings, the renovation of old ones, interior design, and the operation and maintenance of existing buildings.

The Cost of Going Green

It is important that companies contemplating the cost of designing or retrofitting a building for green energy and minimal environmental impact (or even improving the environment on which it is built) understand that this cost must be calculated not in terms of immediate costs but on a lifecycle basis. While some elements of green construction may be more expensive than less environmentally friendly measures, one of the most appealing aspects of green construction is that, in the long run, it is often less expensive to maintain and operate a building that is designed to have minimal impact.

An obvious example of this is the use of alternative energy sources, many of which are not only cleaner than traditional sources, such as oil, but also less expensive. A building designed to make maximum use of sunlight and solar energy, for instance, will incur fewer energy costs down the road. And a building that uses clean fuels rather than polluting fossil fuels will require less environmental cleanup during the lifecycle of the building.

Another area where green construction more than pays for itself is in the health and productivity of the employees. Because of the emphasis on ergonomics in the LEED rating system, employees in a LEED-certified building will be healthier, happier, and more motivated to work.

In other words, going green isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s cost effective as well.

Green Training

It is absolutely essential to receive training in green building, design, and maintenance practices before applying for accreditation as a LEED AP. A number of schools offer courses in environmentally friendly building practices that count toward degrees in building specialty fields and courses are available to those who already have their degrees.

It is strongly recommended that you obtain a study guide before taking a LEED AP exam to review the specific information that is likely to be covered on the test and to assess your own knowledge against practice questions. You’ll find information scattered throughout this Web site on how to obtain study guides specific to the LEED exam of your choice.


The LEED Accredited Professional program certifies you as having a high degree of specialized knowledge in the creation of buildings and neighborhoods that have a minimal negative impact on the environment, that use energy efficiently, and that are healthy and pleasant for the employees who have to work in them or the people who have to live in them. To qualify as a LEED AP, you need to take an accreditation exam.

There are five of these exams:

  1. LEED AP Building Design and Construction
  2. LEED AP Interior Design and Construction
  3. LEED AP Operations and Maintenance
  4. LEED AP Homes
  5. LEED AP Neighborhood Development

A LEED accreditation exam consists of about eighty questions and takes two hours, not counting an orientation period preceding the test. It is administered by computer, and the results, including whether you have received an accreditation certificate, are available over the Internet within three days of taking the exam.

Why become a LEED AP? Employers involved in constructing LEED-certified buildings get credit for hiring certified LEED APs to become part of the project team, so accreditation greatly increases your employability in the building and design field.

Credential Maintenance

Passing one of the LEED AP credentialing tests results in the test taker receiving credentials in the LEED AP field or fields of their choice. However, these credentials do not last forever. They must be renewed every two years. The green building and construction field changes rapidly and holders of LEED AP certificates are expected to keep abreast of the latest knowledge in their area of expertise. To that end, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) requires that LEED APs must continue to accumulate continuing education (or CE) hours on a two-year cycle.

Two years minus one day after a LEED AP credential is awarded, that credential will expire if no evidence of CD hours has been presented. Before that time, the credential holder must report their CE hours to the GBCI to prevent this expiration. LEED APs must earn thirty CE hours every two years, of which six must be LEED specific. LEED Green Associates must earn fifteen hours, of which three must be LEED specific, to maintain their credential. Reporting of CE hours is done through the My Credentials Web site, with which the certificate holder will have registered prior to the initial credentialing exam.

To maintain a LEED AP credential, a $50 renewal fee must be paid every two years. Five to seven percent of the CE hours reported to the GBCI via the My Credentials Web site will be audited to assure their validity.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014


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