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LEED Stampede
Design professionals rush for accreditation before exam standards are raised

When Harris Ford, a designer at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New Haven, CT, registered for the LEED exam this spring, he was not alone. So many other would-be test takers were also trying to sign up on March 31—the last day to test under the old system, LEED version 2.2, before its upgrade to version 3.0—that they crashed the registration website. "I beat the rush by about 48 hours," Ford said. "At least 25 people in the office registered, even the associates and partners were considering it."

The stream of professionals looking to become LEED accredited has become a flood this spring, as a major overhaul of the exam, combined with a tough economy and buzz about "green collar" jobs has made getting the credential seem increasingly necessary. "Approximately 109,000 people registered for the test between March and June," said Beth Holst, vice president of credentialing at the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), which administers the exam. "It's unprecedented. Last year we tested 50,000 people. This year, we're testing 50,000 in the month of June alone."

The shift to LEED v3 is a major overhaul that includes changes to the rating system, the online project management tools, and—of particular interest to new test takers—the professional accreditation system. That system is now tiered, with three new credentials aimed at different segments of the design and building community. The middle tier approximates the current LEED AP credential, but adds additional requirements: a second, specialty exam in one of the five rating systems; experience on an actual LEED project; and continuing education courses.

The changes are meant to address the shortcomings of the current exam, which many argue is a better measure of memorization skills than green design knowledge. "The test is so rote; I wish it were more concept-based," said Ford. However, he also admitted that the desire to avoid the new, more onerous requirements was a factor in his decision to get accredited. "It seemed like the new test would be more difficult and more involved," he said. "The motivation was to take the easier test now."

Less clear is whether LEED accreditation will be a boon for professionals on the job market. "In a down economy, people try to add 'something extra' to their resume," Holst said. "LEED is that 'extra,' not just for architects and engineers, but also for people in real estate, finance, accounting, law, and a host of other industries." But as LEED accreditation becomes ubiquitous, the credential won't help candidates stand out from the crowd. It will, however, have a more far-reaching effect by making green building the "new normal."  And that has been the goal of LEED's creators, the US Green Building Council, from the start.

Gabrielle Brainard