More professionals, from lawyers to architects, are going green-as in earning career-boosting credentials from a national environmental group.

As awareness of energy efficiency, sustainability and the broader green movement grows, the public is learning more about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the LEED green building certification program is a voluntary national rating system that encompasses all building types. It provides a concise framework for identifying and implementing measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance practices.

"Certification is achieved at the end of the project when the building is proven to meet the various LEED standards," says Darryl Rogers, principal of Rogers Krajnak Architects.

What the public may not be as aware of is that LEED also offers two professional credentials: the Green Associate and LEED Accredited Professional (AP). USGBC reported earlier this year that more than 140,000 people have earned the designations.

"There's an influx of people enrolling in both programs. We're especially seeing a surge in lawyers and commercial real estate brokers," Marie Coleman, USGBC communications coordinator.

Unlike industry specific credentials such as professional engineer or registered nurse, LEED accreditation is sought after by workers across diverse industries. Here's a guide to learning more about how LEED credentialing could benefit you from Central Ohio professionals who've successfully earned accreditations.

LEED Credential Primer

In 2008, USGBC established a subsidiary, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), to administer the LEED professional credentialing and building certification programs.

"Buildings are certified. People are accredited," says Rogers.

Candidates who achieved their LEED AP prior to 2009 were required to pass an extensive examination that measured their knowledge of green building practices. Experience with LEED certified projects wasn't a prerequisite.

GBCI expanded its accreditations in 2009 with the LEED Green Associate option for non-technical professionals.

"We found we needed more flexibility. We created the Green Associate, because not everyone needs all of the knowledge we include in the LEED AP designation," Coleman says.

LEED Green Associate covers the basics of green design, construction and operations. Candidates must have involvement with LEED-registered projects, current or previous employment in a sustainable field, or participation in green building educational programs.

Adding the new credential led to changes for LEED AP candidates.

They, too, must have experience on a LEED project. The two-part exam covers the general LEED Green Associate test, as well as a specialty test based on one of the LEED rating systems. Candidates choose from Operations and Maintenance; Homes Building Design and Construction, or Interior Design and Construction. In 2010, GBCI is developing a Neighborhood Development tract to address LEED's benefits beyond the certified building into the surrounding neighborhood.

"We really want people to become proficient with our different rating systems. Now they specialize in the one that's most relevant to their job," Coleman says. "Once they've earned their LEED AP, they have a thorough education in sustainability. They'll understand what the green movement is all about.

Beyond Green Associate and LEED AP, GBCI is developing the LEED Fellow designation. Candidates who earn it would be distinguished by their experience and contributions to sustainable standards and the green building body of knowledge.

GBCI also enacted credentialing maintenance in 2009. Biennially, Green Associates must complete 15 hours of continuing education and LEED APs must finish 30 hours if they earned the designation during or after 2009.

An Industry Leader

Heapy Engineering of Dayton has been involved with 135 LEED certified buildings. "That's more than any other Ohio-based firm," says Michael Berning, senior principal and director of sustainable design. He works at the firm's Dayton headquarters, but Heapy also has a Columbus office.

Among Ohio firms of any type, Heapy Engineering also boasts the largest number of LEED APs. Approximately 75 people, or 60 percent of Heapy's technical staff, are accredited. Berning, who earned his LEED AP in 2004, says the company differentiates itself with its knowledge and experience in sustainability.

"We feel it's imperative to have our technical staff work toward their LEED AP. While most credits for LEED building certification are tied to engineering, those going through the accreditation program gain knowledge of the entire system. To fully integrate a design and understand the synergies of the architect, engineer, contractors and owner, you must also understand the interplay between them."

For added expertise, he says the marketing and administrative staff is considering the new Green Associate program.

Heapy hosts regular lunch-and-learn LEED sessions, some of which qualify for continuing education units. "With LEED AP, you've studied enough to pass the exam, but you need ongoing training and involvement in LEED projects to add to your knowledge," Berning says.

On-The-Job Advantages

As an architect, Rogers says being a LEED AP is important. "More and more of our clients and prospects are looking for that demonstration of sustainability knowledge. We're involved from the very beginning, so I must demonstrate I have the knowledge of sustainable and green features," he says. Rogers earned his LEED AP in 2007.

He notes green standards and sustainability features are increasingly being incorporated into building codes. "Some municipalities and states are ahead of others, but it's happening. I don't think they're an anomaly," Rogers says.

In 2007, Lesley Avery,an associateat Schottenstein Zox & Dunn, became the first Ohio attorney to earn the LEED AP credential. "Attorneys need to understand the overall green, sustainability trends and the LEED certification standards. Understanding the complexities in practice helps us explain to clients how their real estate contracts and transactions can be impacted," Avery says of her real estate practice.

She confirms a growing interest in LEED by lawyers. "Interest by attorneys in achieving their LEED AP is definitely there and a good number of attorneys in Central Ohio have achieved it. At our firm, Patrick Devine, a construction attorney, just earned his Green Associate designation," Avery says.

Karen Hutsell, project executive with Siemens Industry in Columbus, pursued her LEED AP in 2006. "I call on architects and engineers, so it's important that I understand what they're doing and advocating in sustainability," she says.

Siemens Industry is known for manufacturing medical equipment, but it also performs energy audits for healthcare facilities. Hutsell advises hospitals and outpatient surgery centers, and it has assisted in both new construction and renovation projects.

"My LEED AP gives me a foot in the door. I explain how Siemens can help them figure out what's best for their building and company," she says. "I can give them options because of what I learned. I can point out the small things that don't cost a lot, but can have a big return. If they want, they can roll them into a more costly project and use the savings to pay for it."

Those sustainability measures are an avenue to quantify savings and tie them to the financials. "When I point that out, healthcare professionals are more open to conversations about energy efficiency improvements and the related costs," Hutsell says.

Matthew Forshey, principal energy efficiency coordinator for American Electric Power (AEP), says the process gave him a broader perspective. "LEED touches every aspect of a building and the professional accreditation explains how. Most people going through the program have some idea of one part or another, but not the whole. That's what LEED AP teaches and it helped me a lot," says Forshey, who earned his LEED AP in 2008.

Client Interest

Public awareness is at an all-time high relative to sustainability. That bodes well for LEED.

"Certainly the timing now is great for it and energy efficient projects. LEED has caught on with a lot of companies and many consider it to be the industry standard for sustainable buildings," Forshey says. "I'd say the same for the LEED AP program-that it's emerged as the leader."

Rogers put his expertise to work with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Its new Grove City facility was designed to achieve aLEED Silver certification rating. "CEO Matt Habash pushed for sustainable features, because they fit the Foodbank's mission. He asked how a food bank could be less wasteful with energy. LEED spoke to them as an organization and fit their philosophy," Rogers says.

Other clients take a little more convincing, "Clients often think LEED potentially adds costs to their project. We explain how you often pay more up front, but there are significant long-term benefits in energy savings and cost savings. We help our clients balance that," Rogers says. "LEED certification certainly isn't for every project, but we might still go through the same rigorous process to add green features to the project."

Hutsell says she's aware of growing corporate pressure to be more energy efficient. "A lot of people use LEED criteria as a guide, even if they don't seek certification for the building," she says.

Avery sees that, too. "There's definitely a push to make buildings more sustainable and incorporate energy saving features. We represent municipalities and public entities, so I use my LEED AP to create interest in sustainability within those sectors," she says. "With the state of the economy right now, we're not seeing as much private real estate development as we might otherwise."

When comparing the number of LEED certified buildings to the overall number of construction projects, Rogers says it's comparatively low right now. "I'm hoping that number increases over time as the economy recovers and people become even more aware of the benefits of LEED," he says.

Company Benefits

The employers of LEED APs benefit directly from their employees' knowledge. "AEP has big goals for energy efficiency. We're working hard to achieve them internally and with our customers. Being a LEED AP, I can help the company achieve those goals and make positive cost and energy saving changes," Forshey says.

AEP's initiatives include making some of its facilities LEED-certified. "We needed someone to coordinate that effort. I also used to do energy efficiency projects for AEP's buildings," Forshey says.

He recently transferred to a new department where he's using his LEED AP expertise to help develop energy efficiency programs for AEP electric customers in 11 states. "We're talking about how to incorporate LEED into customer-directed programs, but we haven't settled on any solutions yet," Forshey says.

At Nationwide, LEED standards are being incorporated into the capital budget. "When we do capital projects, we're heavily focused on how to make them green," says Jeff Buitendorp, project manager in the property operations group. He earned his LEED AP in 2008.

Nationwide is considering LEED certification for its Gainesville, Florida, facility. The insurer also will begin preliminary review of three other locations in 2010.

"With Jeff's background in mechanical engineering, Nationwide doesn't have to use an outside consultant to see what works for us. Having the talent in-house helps us be more cost-effective and use our time efficiently," says Ken Frazier, assistant vice president, corporate real estate.

Buitendorp leads an internal sustainability team with co-workers from across the country. "It's corporate recognition of the importance of the sustainability wave," says Frazier. "The team looks at the day-to-day operations of the buildings and brings initiatives to the table for discussion."

"We have a formal methodology to document suggestions, investigate, implement or not, and look at the operational costs and returns," Buitendorp says. "It's great to be green, but we're a business. We have to be competitive. We're looking at the logical things that give us operational savings and makes business sense. Projects must justify themselves on their own merit, but a green component gives it a boost."

"We not only want a good business justification, but also to know that it's actually good for the environment," Frazier says. "We also want to make sure it's good for Nationwide. The knowledge Jeff got through the LEED AP program helps us assess all that."

Nationwide is approaching sustainability from a pilot project perspective. "Let's try it and see what we get out of it. We're trying different technology and if it shows merit, we can roll it out into other facilities," he says.

Lisa Hooker is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from theApril 2010 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.