Many Professionals Take LEED Test

April 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — As a LEED Accredited Professional, an architect or engineer proves he or she has the knowledge necessary to participate in the green building design process.

The grassroots calling card of the U.S. Green Building Council, the designation shows a mastery of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. Just the presence of a LEED-AP on a project is worth a point toward LEED certification.

A LEED-AP is expected to understand the practices, principles and requirements of not only the latest version of LEED for New Construction and Renovation but the recent additions as well.

Granted, much of that falls on the individual. A dozen Progressive AE engineers and architects barreled through an in-house training program last summer to earn LEED-AP.

At last count, Progressive AE boasted the largest concentration of LEED-APs — 25 — of any West Michigan engineering group. The number was well ahead of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber’s 16, and the 11 at both GMB Architects & Engineers and URS Corp.

But just ahead of Progressive is a company that doesn’t even claim designing buildings as a core competency — its products don’t even enter the building until after it’s occupied.

Furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc. has more LEED-APs on staff than any other West Michigan company: 27.

“The original intent for the LEED Accredited Professional was to have people (who are) designing buildings very familiar with the LEED system,” said URS Mechanical Engineer Manda Moore, chair of the USGBC West Michigan chapter.

“What has developed is that a lot of these architects and engineers are going to product manufacturers and product people looking for someone familiar with LEED to talk to about products. So it’s filtered to people not directly in the building industry.”

This naturally includes representatives of the construction industry, such as The Christman Co. and Wolverine Building Group. Further along, individuals from other sectors jump into the market. In construction services there is Allied Waste’s Buzz Lynds, and among suppliers there is Standale Lumber’s John Kuiper.

Then there are the commercial furniture manufacturers — Herman Miller, Steelcase, and Haworth — and also health-care providers like Metropolitan Hospital, makers of consumer goods like Alticor and Ford Motor Co., and furniture suppliers like Interface Fabrics.

“Of course we have a LEED-AP in our architecture group, but we’ve got them in the other design groups, too,” said Paul Murray, Herman Miller’s corporate environmental affairs manager. “The view here is slanted over some place like Chicago or Los Angeles, because in West Michigan we are so much of a supplier to the built environment. The Herman Millers and Steelcases and Interfaces are all living right here, and we need to know what our customers are demanding of us.”

If Herman Miller’s customers are working with recycled content, its designers need to understand how that can affect its furniture design.

“It really is a great tool for my staff,” Murray said. “They get engaged, take the test, and understand what our customers might do that will impact the design process. Plus, we are able to help with the internal projects where we are seeking LEED.”

This is particularly helpful at Herman Miller, where a corporate mandate has declared that all facilities be brought up to LEED standards.

But many local LEED-APs aren’t necessarily involved in product design: Lynds and other notables like Interface Fabrics Divisional Vice President Mark LaCroix are salesmen.

“These are people who understand that green building is a very sound business proposition,” Murray said.

“The USGBC focuses on bringing all these things together as a package,” added Moore. “The long-term goal is for everyone to start talking about green building. Once people start looking at all the things that go into LEED, you can see all the different things your company can be doing to make a better product that might not necessarily fit into the LEED criteria.

“If you talk about Mark LaCroix, he’s in marketing; his job is to understand the future of his marketplace.”

Moore believes the flux of LEED-APs parallels the acceptance of LEED and green building as a whole. Manufacturers outside of the built environment like Ford and Toyota have both completed LEED projects. Retailers like Starbucks, CircuitCity and Target are all USGBC members.

The LEED exam is 73 multiple-choice questions taken over a little less than two hours at a testing facility such as the SylvanLearningCenter. The questions do not require a great deal of technical skill beyond the LEED ratings. The USGBC hosts workshops on a regular basis to prepare for the exam.

The Herman Miller culture gives its employees a natural advantage when taking the LEED-AP exam. It was a founding member of the USGBC and now has twice as many LEED-certified buildings as any entity in the state with several more across the nation.

Murray doesn’t think that a lack of such exposure should deter non-engineers from seeking accreditation.

“You might study a little harder than what an architect would,” Murray said. “But we passed and we’re not architects. The more people we have studying for and taking the test, the more people are going to understand what it means to have a LEED-certified building.”    

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