LEED professional credentials: To renew or not to renew?


    The deadline for LEED Accredited Professionals (APs) to enroll in the new Green Building Certification Institute’s (GBCI) credential maintenance program is fast approaching, beginning in August and ending in October. If you are a LEED AP now, do you have all the information to make an informed decision before you commit to the CMP? What is the case for a structural engineer to maintain the LEED credential? What happens if you do not enroll? Your choice, as we will see, depends on your professional goals and your expected level of interaction on LEED building projects.

    Impact on existing LEED APs
    As of June, over 137,000 professionals have earned their LEED credentials in the United States. Less than 2 percent of the accredited professionals identify structural engineering as either a primary or secondary area of practice, while about 5 percent list themselves as civil engineers (the overlap for those who self-identify as both practice areas is approximately one in four). The majority (more than 80 percent) of these individuals hold a LEED AP without specialty credential. For the other 20 percent of structural engineers, the most common specialty is Building Design & Construction (BD+C), with the second most common being LEED AP for Homes. Generally, the choice of specialty depends on the types of projects the engineer works on most frequently, and any professional can carry more than one specialty (with the caveat that additional continuing education and reporting requirements come with each additional specialty).

    The GBCI provides a flowchart of options and the subsequent enrollment process. In sum, professionals with a current LEED AP credential who have not yet opted in to the CMP have three choices:

    • Sit for a LEED specialty exam and commit to a flexible continuing education program of 30 CE hours in two years (exam fee required).
    • Commit to a structured (“prescriptive”) program of 30 CE hours in two years (no fee).
    • Do nothing and exist in perpetuity as a LEED AP without specialty.

    In the first two cases, after completion of the opt-in process, new credentials are subject to ongoing reporting requirements for continuing education as well as biannual renewal fees. For reference, a CE hour is roughly equivalent to one contact hour, or one professional development hour (PDH). A continuing education unit (CEU) for approved courses, training programs and certificates, as defined by ASCE, is equal to 10 PDHs.

    What counts as continuing education?
    Time spent in several types of educational activities on a variety of green building topics can be used to help earn CE hours to maintain LEED credentials. Activities include attending or participating in live presentations, working on LEED projects, authoring books and papers, volunteering for approved opportunities or committees, and self-study. Courses from accredited colleges and universities are also approved, along with professional courses offered through certified educational review bodies (ERBs). Ultimately, ERBs determine qualified professional development courses that can, to some extent, be chosen and tailored to fit areas of interest and expertise of the individual. Educational courses and activities, according to GBCI, must meet the following criteria to count for CE hours. Material must be:

    • Relevant to green building. Topics include, but are not limited to: the LEED certification process, site development, water and waste management, building systems, energy and materials, indoor environmental quality, public involvement and innovation.
    • Representative of the state of the practice for green building.
    • Non-promotional activities.
    • Exclusive to the LEED credentials (i.e., not preparation for the professional engineer license).

    The catch
    Sounds easy enough, so what’s the catch? Beyond the time and financial commitments, each pathway for CE requires a minimum of 20 percent of CE hours to be “LEED-specific.” LEED-specific means that the learning time is spent on approved activities that cover special topics on the LEED green building rating systems, such as: certification processes, versions of the rating system, contents of the rating system (credits, categories, etc.), case studies and technical updates, lessons learned seminars, and costs or benefits of LEED.

    Additionally, time can be earned for LEED-specific hours simply by working on a LEED project. Work on LEED projects can be as simple as documenting a credit or being the project administrator. However, project work is limited to 10 hours in two years and so cannot exclusively be used to meet the ongoing CMP requirements.

    Unfortunately, there are currently no cross-listed GBCI or USGBC courses for professional engineers that satisfy state board licensure requirements in states requiring continuing education. This is because courses offered by engineering training organizations, such as ASCE, are certified education providers by a third-party organization.

    Even though they are authorities in the green building industry, USGBC and GBCI are not currently third-party certified education providers for civil engineers. Structural engineers seeking to maintain their LEED AP in a state with professional development requirements may have to put in additional contact hours to achieve both educational requirements or submit additional paperwork to get legitimate contact hours approved through an ERB.

    Generally, for states requiring PDHs for professional licensure, the number of contact hours is between 24 and 30 hours biannually. So for PEs in those states, opting-in to GBCI’s CMP means committing to an additional 30 hours for maintenance of the LEED credential alone. In states with no continuing education requirements, PEs would need to commit to a brand new program of continuing education. However, future collaboration between ASCE and other engineering organizations with USGBC or GBCI could change and present cross-listing opportunities. Additionally, independent education providers could potentially seek cross-listing of courses with multiple organizations.

    Considering your future
    The LEED AP credential provides a unique opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from other structural engineers as a professional. If you already are a LEED AP, with or without specialty, this distinction has already been earned. You should consider whether the credential is useful or valuable, since a LEED AP is not required for working on green building projects or LEED projects. It is now your choice to choose to upgrade to a specialty or not. Here are eight questions to help your decision making process:

    • Do you value continuing your own education in sustainability?
    • Does your company (or future company) identify sustainability as one of its core values?
    • Does your company provide incentives for continuing education?
    • What are your structural engineering peers doing?
    • Are you the resident expert on LEED on your team? Is there competition within your firm for the role?
    • Are you currently working on a LEED project where putting in the time for studying would be helpful or beneficial, or just convenient?
    • Is sustainability a local or community value, such that green CE opportunities are accessible to you in your area or in areas where your firm operates?
    • Does your state require PDHs for your P.E. license? If so, how much additional time are you willing to commit to CE hours in addition to those you are required to complete to maintain your professional license?

    Did you answer “yes” to the first question? If lifelong education is one of your values or goals, GBCI’s opportunity to opt-in to the premier education program for green building professionals probably aligns well with your values. The CMP provides a means to meet your goals but it is not the only one. If you choose not to renew, the good news is that USGBC still offers educational programs and courses that are not in the pursuit of maintenance of a specific credential. You can still stay up to date and current on your own through USGBC’s courses, or simply by purchasing a new LEED Reference Guide every three years as the standard is updated. Additionally, ASCE also offers continuing education on sustainability that may be relevant to your area of expertise.

    Jeralee Anderson is the director of Greenroads Foundation and a member of the SEI Sustainability Committee. She can be reached at info@greenroads.us. The committee’s website is www.seisustainability.org.