LEED Accreditation Guide- Steps and Tips on Acheiving Your LEED Green Associate Accreditation

The following is a brief overview of the LEED personal accreditation process and a review of the LEED Core Concepts and Strategies online course that is offered through the USGBC website. It is a write-up for my Independent Study project in which I am pursuing my LEED Green Associate Accreditation.

Introduction to LEED and the U.S. Green Building Council-

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable development and green building construction.  With roughly 15,000 members, the USGBC brings together professionals from every sector of the building industry which includes the private sector as well as state and federal agencies.  The goal of the USGBC is to promote green building practices to make green buildings available to everyone.  The USGBC offers courses and seminars on sustainable development and promotes the collective efforts of green building organizations by hosting conferences and meetings all across the country.

The USGBC is perhaps best known for their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.  This program provides a system of standards and ratings for environmentally sustainable building projects.  The procedure that developers must go through is a completely transparent process in which points are given for different aspects of sustainability that are included in the project.  This rating process all counts towards a building’s LEED certification.  LEED certification has become the standard for green building projects and likely will be for years to come.

Levels of LEED Accreditation-

The process in which green building professionals can become LEED approved professionals, is called LEED accreditation.  LEED accreditation has three tiers of achievement, mirroring the LEED building certification rating system.  The first tier of accreditation, which I am applying for, is called “LEED Green Associate.”  The second tier is called “LEED Accredited Professional.”  LEED AP also has five separate branches of specialization which include building design and construction, homes, interior design and construction, neighborhood development, and operations and maintenance.  The third tier of accreditation is what is known as “LEED Accredited Professional Fellow.”  LEED Fellows are a class of leading LEED professionals that have years of green building practice under their belts and demonstrate great leadership in the field of sustainable development.  However, this tier is still under development.

Additional information can be found here- US Green Building Certification Institute

Becoming a LEED Green Associate-

For starters, everything you could possibly want to know about the LEED accreditation exam is available on the USGBC website.  You can find a general overview of the process here- LEED exam prep.  Furthermore, the handbooks for LEED accreditation on their website can provide you with all the answers to any questions you may have.  You can find them here- USGBC Handbooks and you can find the Green Associate handbook here- Green Associate Handbook.

The first step in becoming a LEED Accredited Professional is achieving your LEED Green Associate accreditation.  According to the USGBCI’s website, green associates should “demonstrate green building expertise in non-technical fields of practice, GBCI has created the LEED Green Associate credential, which denotes basic knowledge of green design, construction, and operations.”  Essentially, this Green Associate accreditation is an introductory accreditation towards further LEED pursuit.  In order to become a LEED Green Associate, the applicant must pass the LEED Green Associate examination that is administered by the USGBCI.  However, Green Associate candidates must meet a few eligibility requirements first.

Eligibility requirements-

Candidates must have experience in the form of:

  • EITHER documented involvement on a LEED-registered project
  • OR employment (or previous employment) in a sustainable field of work
  • OR engagement in (or completion of) an education program that addresses green building principles.  (USGBCI)

This means that candidates must be involved with an ongoing LEED construction project, or they must be employed in a field that relates to sustainable development or must have taken at least one course that addresses green building principles.  Personally, I chose the engagement in an education program that addresses green building principles to make myself eligible to take the Green Associate exam.  However, since I am a Geography and Environmental Studies double-major, I did not immediately meet the requirements of being enrolled in a program that addresses green building principles.  While a few of my classes here at Ohio Wesleyan have touched on green building techniques, I did not feel that it was enough to gain eligibility.  Regardless, even if it was enough to make me eligible, I did not feel as if  I would have been ready to take the LEED accreditation exam without further education on the subject.  Luckily for me, the USGBC offered courses that not only made me eligible to take the exam, but sufficiently prepared me for the exam as well.  These courses can be found by clicking on the USGBC’s LEED workshops or online courses link on the LEED exam prep homepage.  Among these courses are classes and seminars that can be taken from sources outside of the USGBC.  However, when I went to apply to take the courses in September, only a few courses were offered exclusively through the USGBC.  These core courses can be found by clicking on the “USGBC courses first” option on the drop down menu near the top of the page

Furthermore, you can filter your results by clicking on “format” on the left side of the page and choosing “online course” if you wish to look at online courses only.  When I went to apply for these courses in September, it only gave me the option to take the 200 level courses to gain eligibility.  Therefore, I signed up for the “LEED Core Concepts and Strategies” online course.  The course cost $150, but it is available for 60 days after your purchase, giving you plenty of time to go through the course multiples times to really get the material down.  Today they have a 100 level introductory course called Green Building Basics and LEED, but that course seems a bit too light to sufficiently prepare you for the LEED accreditation exam.  The next steps after taking the exam are signing up for the exam and taking the exam.  The USGBC website now provides links to study guides that it did not have in November.  The test can be taken at a computer testing center, much like how the GRE is taken.  The exam costs $200 to sign up and take, or $150 for students that attend an accredited university.  While exact percentages are not posted as to what qualifies for a passing score on the exam, the Green Associate handbook claims that anything above a 170 on the exam is a passing grade.  However, I could not find anywhere how many points are on the entire exam.

LEED Core Concepts and Strategies-

The LEED Core Concepts and Strategies course provided a great overview of the USGBC and LEED goals, strategies and rating system.  It also provided a massive amount of detail on the different aspects of green building practices and how they applied to the LEED rating system.  In addition, it used examples of green buildings in its description of these practices, making it easy to see the different applications of these green building practices in real life.  The course discusses the organization of the LEED rating system and the different areas that it addresses.

The course outlined the LEED rating system and discussed the importance of each category.  The LEED rating system is based on a scale offering 100 possible points with 10 extra points awarded for innovation in design and regional priority.  Buildings can  achieve one of four different levels of certification.

A Building can become LEED certified if it is awarded 40-49 points.  If a building is awarded 50-59 points, it is classified as LEED Silver certified.  If a building is awarded 60-79 points, it becomes LEED Gold certified.  A LEED Platinum certification is achieved by earning 80 or more points in the rating scale.  Points are distributed in multiple categories.  The distribution is as follows-

The first category that the course discusses is “sustainable sites.”  This includes the advantageous selection of a site in relation to other resources and populated areas.  Extra credits are awarded if the site that is selected re-uses land or existing buildings that were formerly unused.  Choosing a sustainable site is extremely important in building green.  Things that should be considered are the site’s access to mass public transportation, its ability to limit urban sprawl, its relationship and proximity to densely populated and traveled areas, its ability to maximize open space and minimizing its impacts on the surround natural environment.  Choosing a sustainable site can be crucial in maintaining a building’s relevancy for years to come as well.  This is why 26 total points are awarded for sustainable sites, as it is the first and one of the most vital steps in developing sustainable urban areas.

The next aspect of green buildings that the course talks about is through water efficiency.  Water efficiency points are awarded for buildings that effectively cut down on water usage throughout the building.  This includes the installation of low flow plumbing fixtures and regulating the amount of water that is used throughout the day.  In addition, credits are earned if a building can effectively recycle water and use it throughout the building.  In many cases, rainwater collectors are installed in buildings.  This rainwater can be used in many ways such as heating and cooling and in toilets or irrigation systems.  If a building uses this recycled water as opposed to potable water for systems that do not require the potable water, it improves the water efficiency greatly.

The largest aspect of the LEED rating system is the Energy and Atmosphere rating scale.  Making a building more energy efficient by using energystar approved appliances can go a long way in making the building more sustainable.  Energy monitors and regulators can also cut down on the electricity that is used in a building.  The course discusses the many ways in which passive wind, solar and geothermal energy can be used to cut down on heating and cooling costs, thus making the building more energy efficient.  Of course, renewable energy resources play a major role in green building development.  Points are awarded for on-site renewable energy resources that are included in the building’s development.  With Global Climate Change at the forefront of the environmental movement nowadays, the Energy and atmosphere aspect of the LEED rating system plays a major role in a building’s LEED certification.  In addition, the long term financial benefits of renewable energy make the green building process much more attractive to developers.

The next aspect of the LEED certification process that is addressed is the Materials and Resources rating scale.  Points are awarded if a building effectively uses recycled materials that are gathered locally or if a construction takes place within an already existing building.  Building materials can be recycled from all sorts of sites, such as other construction sites.  In many cases, construction site’s materials that are not used and would otherwise be thrown away can be used in the construction of a green building.  In addition, points are awarded if the building resources come from a local company in the region.  Since the materials travel a smaller distance, the carbon cost of shipping these materials to the site of the building is reduced.

The final aspect of the LEED rating system that the course addresses is the Indoor environmental quality rating scale.  The course mentions that indoor environmental quality is important not only for the health and well-being of the occupants, but it actually improves worker morale and productivity as well.  By maximizing natural sunlight and air, the environment that these workers work in is significantly impacted.  Points are awarded for minimizing the use of volatile organic compounds in the construction of the buildings.  In addition, points are awarded for efficient insulation that decreases the need for heating and cooling systems in the building.

The course not only outlines these different aspects of the LEED rating system in great detail, but it provides examples of these practices in real life.  These work very effectively as you can see the many different ways that these green building developers have made their building more environmentally friendly.  All together, the LEED rating system provides firm guidelines for the development of green buildings. In many ways, LEED acts as a goal that promotes ambition in green building achievement.  In addition, LEED accreditation provides a baseline for individuals who wish to learn more about sustainable development.  In a few years, LEED accreditation will become the industry standard and it will no longer be viewed as special.  In many ways, the development of the USGBC and LEED have contributed tremendously to the increased development of sustainable sites and green buildings.  The course mentions that as a result of this, LEED must constantly adapt.  In a few years, it could become much more difficult to achieve these levels of LEED certification.  LEED constantly re-setting the bar for green building development will only lead to greater strides in the future of green building development.

LEED Resources-

Step By Step Guide to LEED Accrediation

LEED Candidates Handbooks

LEED Green Associate Handbook

LEED Exam Prep

Course Catalog for LEED courses

USGBCI Website

USGBC Website

Different aspects of LEED

LEED practice exams

2 Responses to LEED Accreditation Guide- Steps and Tips on Acheiving Your LEED Green Associate Accreditation

  1. Sandy says:


    This is a great resource. I am planning to take the Leed GA exam but I haven’t found any resources online about other test takers experiences/strategies until this post. Out of curiosity did you compare the classes being offered by green-buildings.com the offering is here:

    It seems like a great deal for $225 if it can adequately prepare you for the exam.

    Do you have any thoughts?

  2. jjromano says:


    That course looks pretty interesting. I wish I had looked at other options before I decided to take the USGBC course, but I didn’t think there were any. It certainly looks like that course offers much more than just an online class, so it might be worth your while. The only concern I would have about a course offered outside the USGBC, is that it would not help you meet the eligibility requirements to take the exam, but in this case it tells you that it will. Thats a good find, I think it definitely could be worth it. In fact, I might actually buy one of those practice tests to take before I take my exam, so thank you for showing me that.

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