Implementation of a number of significant changes is underway that affect LEED Accredited Professionals, or LEED APs, the designated keepers of the flame of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating Systems for green buildings.

Developers who are well versed in securing building certification under one of the LEED systems agree that a thorough knowledge of LEED procedures, credits, submission requirements and strategies is critical to success. A primary means of transmitting knowledge of LEED is the LEED AP program developed by the Green Building Council and currently administered by its related organization, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

There are currently more than 77,000 LEED APs and the numbers are growing. With those burgeoning numbers has come the recognition that the importance of the LEED AP designation is declining. In response to such realization as well as to changes in LEED certification standards and green building practices, major changes in the credentialing of LEED APs were announced in November 2008. These changes are designed to raise accreditation to a new level of professionalism and credibility in the marketplace.

The current LEED AP program — without these changes — requires completion of a two-hour computerized multiple-choice exam relating to one of two LEED certification systems: LEED for New Construction 2.2 or LEED for Commercial Interiors 2.0 (an exam related to LEED for Existing Buildings 2.0 was discontinued at the end of 2008).

Despite the fact that green building practices and products are changing rapidly, and the LEED standards have changed significantly and continue to evolve, there is no requirement for periodic retesting and no continuing education requirements.

As a result, qualifications differ significantly among current LEED APs depending on which exam they took, when they took it, the extent of their involvement in the LEED certification process, and whether they have stayed current with the changes in green building technology and practices. Indeed, of the more than 77,000 LEED APs, many are non-building professionals who acquired the accreditation for reasons other than assisting in the LEED certification of green buildings.

In contrast, the new LEED AP credentials reflect the recognition that different levels of understanding and expertise are needed to serve the industry. For people that need some general knowledge of LEED certification systems but do not require technical involvement or expertise, a new designation will soon be available — LEED Green Associate.

Additionally, for those who possess knowledge of LEED, experience with LEED projects, and technical knowledge and expertise in one of five categories, the new credential designation will be LEED AP+. Accreditation will be specialized and aligned with one of five LEED 2009 (sometimes referred to as LEED v.3) Rating Systems: Operations and Maintenance (O+M); Building Design and Construction (BD+C); Interior Design and Construction (ID+C); Neighborhood Development (ND); and Homes.

Additional significant changes to the certification process include continuing education and a new disciplinary policy. The LEED Green Associate and the LEED AP+ will need to obtain 15 and 30 hours, respectively, of continuing education every two years.

The most significant — and limiting — new qualification for LEED AP+ is the requirement of documented experience on a LEED certified project within the past three years. Because of the new experience requirement, the Green Building Associate accreditation will become the credential for which non-building professionals and early career building professionals are eligible.

While the increased standards for the LEED AP+ should enhance the perceived value of that credential, the perception of the Green Building Associate credential in the marketplace is more difficult to predict. As for the current LEED APs, now designated as “Legacy LEED APs,” they have two years to opt in to the new system. If they fail to do so, they will retain the designation but its recognition in the industry will presumably decline.

The new LEED credentialing is designed to increase competency and professionalism. As market demand and government mandates and incentives increase the economic risk of failing to obtain the requisite LEED certification for a project, the active participation of a LEED AP+ should provide greater assurance that costly mistakes in certification can be avoided. For everyone involved in green building, that should be a welcome development. More details may be found at www.gbci.org.

Keith McGlamery is a partner with Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll’s Real Estate Department and a member of the Real Estate Finance Group, the Energy and Project Finance Group, the Climate Change Group, and the Military Installation Finance Group in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. He is one of the first U.S. attorneys to become a LEED AP.