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LEED certification: why is it so popular?

Saturday 2 November 2013

It seems that LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is becoming a must for all sorts of public buildings as well as corporate and residential developments.  Yet, just as the number of LEED buildings is proliferating, so is the number of LEED-certified architects.  Some are surprised to learn that the LEED program certifies both buildings and the people who make the buildings - and, with the creation of the "light" LEED Accredited Professional certificate, so are a wide range of people working in occupations ranging from urban planning to interior decorating.  (However, these non-architecture occupational specialties are generally unable to attain the higher-level certificates within the LEED scheme, making for a program dominated by architecture.)

LEED professional certification is issued by the Green Building Certification Institute, an arm of the US Green Building Council.  Despite its American origins, LEED certification can be earned anywhere in the world, and a growing number of LEED certifyees are now from outside the United States.   LEED is quickly becoming a global phenomenon for professionals whose work relates to the built environment - but why?  Shouldn't sustainable building techniques be taught as part of the standard program of study in architecture school, anyway?

I believe that part of the reason for LEED's success is that it positions architects and other design professionals as merchants of sustainability. Hiring a LEED certified professional sends a message: the organization cares about the environment, and is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.  While there are other paths that an organization can take, such as greening its supply chain or switching to renewable energy sources, the LEED program positions architecture as the default set of professional services to turn to in order to help an organization become, or at least appear, more environmentally friendly.  Other occupations are catching up with their own programs, ranging from CompTIA's "Green IT" certificate program to a range of sustainability related certificates offered by the Association of Energy Engineers, for now architecture is out in front.

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