In a pitch to EcoBuilding Pulse’s technology editor last month, I made a case for why a person with little—but growing!—industry experience in sustainable design should pursue LEED accreditation through the organization’s Green Associate certification, and why the process would be worth writing about. As a LEED AP herself, she bit. Now, as I await the arrival of my exam prep books and try to carve large chunks of study time out of the next eight weeks, I’m beginning to question my initial zeal.

  • Hallie Busta is an associate editor at EcoBuilding Pulse.
    Hallie Busta is an associate editor at EcoBuilding Pulse.
The LEED Green Associate Exam is issued by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a third-party organization established in 2008 to administer the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED building certifications and professional accreditations. While the only requirement is that the candidate be at least 18 years old at test time, individuals should “have exposure to LEED and green building concepts through educational courses, volunteering, or work experience prior to testing,” the exam’s Candidate Handbook says. Well, I’m 23 years old, I’m employed to write about sustainable building products and technology, and I work with sources and colleagues who've taken and passed the test. So, it’s time I publicly commit to doing the same.

Background: I came to EcoBuilding Pulse’s publisher, Hanley Wood, in February 2012 with little more than an almost-finished bachelor’s degree in journalism and an internship with its sister magazine ARCHITECT under my belt. Since July, I've helped cover products and technology for this publication—a task that offers near-daily reminders of my dearth of knowledge on the finer points of the LEED rating systems. This project is my attempt to remedy that. I’ll be sitting for the exam on Friday, Nov. 15, which gives me eight weeks and two days to prepare. Joining me is Architect magazine assistant design editor Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, who has a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles.

What we’ll cover: This weekly column will offer up what we’re learning about the intricacies of LEED, how we’re preparing for the exam, and, most importantly, how readers can benefit from this experiment. I can’t promise either of us will pass the test, but I can promise that we'll give it our best shot. (Though, we freely admit that failure in this arena would be embarrassing.) Here are some of the topics that we’ll be looking into:

  • Study tactics and good sources of additional test information.
  • How the GBCI plans to integrate LEED v4 principles into later versions of the exam, and how those who've already taken the exam can get up to speed on the forthcoming system.
  • Whether becoming a LEED Green Associate affords special powers. Is it simply a résumé booster? Or a way to show sources, clients, or colleagues that you've learned their language?

The disclosure: This isn't a pitch for the GBCI or the LEED rating system. We recognize that many other sustainable certification programs exist. Among them, the National Green Building Standard, Energy Star, and the oft-dubbed “anti-LEED” Green Globes for New Construction certification from the Green Building Initiative. To date, LEED is the most widely used rating system in North America, where the majority of this publication’s audience resides. LEED and others have received pushback from industry segments, such as lumber and plastic, whose products don’t always fit the program’s criteria, and from industry watchers and municipalities who don’t always agree on what defines a green building. But the green-building segment is growing, and the LEED Green Associate professional accreditation is the only one targeting nontechnical pros that we’re aware of. As a point of comparison, becoming a Green Globes Professional requires at least five years of experience designing, building, operating, or managing commercial buildings or building products.

The goal: To learn about sustainable design and construction without (too much) cramming, pass the test, and retain the information—all while packaging the experience into something from which you, as a reader, can benefit.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I’ll inventory my preparation materials, outline a study plan, and note other sources I've found to be helpful in navigating exam prep. Meanwhile, feel free to send questions, notes on topics you’d like addressed, and exam answer keys (wink, wink) to hbusta@hanleywood.com or @HallieBusta.