... and counting. I've passed the Green Associate exam, but a trip to Greenbuild serves as a reminder that I'm not off the hook for learning more about LEED.
Hallie Busta ... and counting. I've passed the Green Associate exam, but a trip to Greenbuild serves as a reminder that I'm not off the hook for learning more about LEED.

I’m relieved to report that I passed the LEED Green Associate exam last month. And what I was most concerned about—drawing a mental blank upon beginning the timed, computerized exam—didn’t happen. I had prepared well, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I went to Greenbuild. And, whoa, is there still much left to learn about LEED.

One of my goals in tackling this accreditation was to determine whether the title of “LEED Green Associate” brought with it any special powers beyond LEED-related know-how. Would I be more informed about sustainable design and construction in a way that would allow me to add value to conversations with sources, colleagues, other industry members, and the general public? Though I don’t work on LEED projects from a technical or design perspective, I write about the sustainable materials and systems that comprise them—a task that requires a critical eye toward requirements of the LEED process.

The LEED Green Associate exam largely focuses on the process of getting a project through the LEED certification system. Its questions pertain to credit requirements and the application of specific green strategies to achieve them. To be fair, I took the test associated with the 2009 version of LEED, not the test associated with v4. The Green Associate exam for the latter will become available in June 2014 and, one can deduce, will be slightly more challenging than the current version due to the updated rating system’s more stringent requirements.

One of my objectives in chronicling the process was to see whether I could learn anything about how the USGBC plans to incorporate principles of v4 into the Green Associate exam since some of the new material is more technical in nature. USGBC marketing and product development manager Erin Emery Hartz said in an email that aspiring Green Associates are still responsible for learning the basic information within each credit category. In LEED v4, “basic” becomes a little more advanced. With regard to the Materials and Resources category, which gets a significant update in v4, Hartz said:

“The Green Associate exam is designed to test general knowledge of green building practices. As a result, the updated Green Associate exam will include content that is foundational to the entire Materials and Resources credit category in LEED v4, such as reuse (building and material), material life-cycle impacts, and waste management.”

That answer doesn’t delve too deep into the specifics, but you can’t expect them to begin doling out test questions, can you?

Back to Greenbuild. Preparing for the exam was challenging, as the test is all-encompassing while the USGBC’s study materials are not. Sitting for the exam was fairly easy and probably the simplest part of becoming a LEED Green Associate. But maintaining the credential is going to require some work—15 continuing education units every two years, that is. I’ll admit that number is paltry compared to the number of credits required to maintain an AIA certification or even a LEEP AP credential. Even so, I was able to knock a chunk out of that number at Greenbuild, accruing seven credits from sessions focused on the LEED rating system and related resources, material transparency, resilient design, and material salvage.

While those sessions were light on LEED processes and heavy on sustainable design strategies and tactics, I could feel a few extra gears turning, particularly during one session that previewed the updated LEED Online and new v4 references guides. Seeing the back-end of the process and hearing questions from attendees to the session's panelists helps to understand how the whole thing works. Now that projects can begin to apply for LEED v4 certification, I’ll need to make a concerted effort to focus my CEUs on learning more about the updated version.

Credential maintenance doesn’t happen overnight, but I’m looking forward to the process of continuing my LEED education.

Below is a rundown of the materials I used to prepare and their costs:

  • LEED Green Associate Practice Tests with Exam Simulator and Study Guide, Green Building Education Services, $49.95. My thoughts: This was the most helpful resource I used to prepare. I caved two nights before the exam and purchased these practice tests (which expire six months from first use) after having difficulty grasping the language of the free practice tests online—which are in limited supply. The 600 practice questions are a similar format to what I saw on the Green Associate exam—albeit a little harder, at times.
  • Study Bundle: Green Associate Study Guide and Core Concepts Guide, USGBC, $155. My thoughts: These books, together, were a sufficient introductory resource, but they don’t stand alone as all-encompassing guides. I started my preparations with these, and reinforced and built on that information with the supplemental materials listed here.
  • Guide to the LEED Green Associate Exam, Wiley, $65. My thoughts: This guide is very similar to the Study Bundle, but it offers a bit more synthesis between credit-related facts and green-building principles.
  • Advice! Ask around your office or professional network for find individuals who have taken the test already to hear what portions they found most challenging and the preparatory tactics they found most helpful.
  • Additional free online practice tests are discussed in this post.

We’re not done yet. Send your tidings of good luck to Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, assistant editor for design at Architect magazine, as he sits for the exam in the coming weeks. Questions or comments are still welcome, too. You can send them to hbusta@hanleywood.com or dmadsen@hanleywood.com.