LEED Third Party Verification: Project Certification and Professional Credentials

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Third-party verification, the basic concept at the heart of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, is both its greatest strength and its greatest burden. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has long struggled to establish a practical system in which a series of independent verifiers work seamlessly together to achieve building certification.

LEED Third Party Verification: Project Certification and Professional Credentials


Commissioning Authority

A few years ago, one of the primary challenges of constructing a LEED building was simply finding a commissioning authority, especially for people living in regions where building green was not yet mainstream. “Fundamental Commissioning of Building Energy Systems” was the first prerequisite in the Energy and Atmosphere category for both LEED 2.2 and LEED 2009, and a commissioning authority was required to review, plan, and inspect systems pertaining to HVAC, lighting and daylighting controls, and other energy-related building technologies. After a commissioning authority was found, the dramatic variations in the ways that different commissioning authorities administered LEED compliance could further impede the process of constructing a building with LEED certification.

However, an even larger problem has been the ability of the USGBC to perform its role as the overarching certifying agency. With applications for LEED certification increasing over the past decade, the USGBC became bogged down and fell behind schedule in issuing certifications.

Project Certification

LEED 2009 overhauled the certification process to address this issue. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a nonprofit affiliate of the USGBC, now acts as an overseer; accredited third-party firms act as "certification bodies" (CBs) that manage the tasks associated with certification. (Further down the ladder are technical assessors, also approved through the GBCI.) This new expanded process is International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliant. However, in the year since LEED 2009 was launched, the components dealing with CBs have required the most tweaking. Some tasks previously outsourced to CBs will once again be performed by the GBCI. The ongoing challenge facing the USGBC is that as the LEED program grows it must find a way to increase its administrative capacity while simultaneously ensuring consistency in the application of LEED standards and accessibility.

LEED Professional Accreditation

The GBCI was created in 2007 to administer the LEED Professional Accreditation process; LEED 2009 brought further changes to this process. Where there once was one professional credential (LEED AP), now there are several. To earn an AP designation, one must be a qualified design professional and have worked on a LEED-registered project within three years of the exam application submittal date. Within the AP category there are now five different tests and designations:

  • LEED AP Operations & Maintenance (O&M)
  • LEED AP Building Design & Construction (BD&C)
  • LEED AP Interior Design & Construction (ID&C)
  • LEED AP Homes
  • LEED AP Neighborhood Development

Anyone who is not a design professional must pursue the new LEED Green Associate designation, which is intended for people in nontechnical fields. Also under development is a LEED Fellow designation, which will recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to the field of green building.

For those who earned their AP credential under the old version of LEED, there are three options for transitioning to the new system. APs can enroll in the new system and earn their specialty (O&M, BD&C, or ID&C) by passing the Part 2 (or specialty) portion of the new exam. APs can also enroll in the new system and earn their specialty without taking the exam if they agree to participate in the Credentialing Maintenance Program, which will keep them current with LEED 2009 knowledge areas. To take advantage of either of these two options, APs must enroll in the new system before June 2011. APs who do not choose either of these options can remain in the LEED professional directory as a LEED AP without specialty. Under the new system, existing APs must also participate in a maintenance system and accumulate continuing education points.

The USGBC still administers education and test prep courses. Its performance of this function, in addition to its ongoing role as the developer of the LEED rating system, allows the USGBC to maintain its position as the primary resource -- and decision-maker -- for the LEED program.

Kristin Dispenza

Kristin graduated from The Ohio State University in 1988 with a B.S. in architecture and a minor in English literature. Afterward, she moved to Seattle, Washington, and began to work as a freelance design journalist, having regular assignments with Seattle’s Daily Journal of Commerce.

After returning to Ohio in 1995, her freelance activities expanded to include writing for trade publications and websites, as well as other forms of electronic media. In 2011, Kristin became the managing editor for Buildipedia.com.

Kristin has been a features writer for Buildipedia.com since January 2010. Some of her articles include:

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