{Green Careers} January 2016 Recap: Professional Certifications & Exams

January 26, 2016

by Kimberly Stempien

  2015-01-12_GHNYC Green CareersYou’ve targeted a career in the green building industry – now what do you need to know about professional certifications to further your career?   The Green Careers Group started off 2016 with an informative discussion on industry accreditations.  Students, practicing engineers, and other sustainability professionals gathered at DORMA Design Center to hear three sustainability and energy efficiency experts discuss the importance of different professional credentials, their use in the industry, and informational resources.   BPI Certification Courses and LEED Green Associate Credential  First up was Mark Yuschak, LEED GA, BPI MFBA, who discussed BPI certification courses and the LEED Green Associate (GA) credential. As a consultant and Project Manager for the Association for Energy Affordability, Inc., Yuschak organizes and coordinates Passive House projects that help building and property managers, auditors, and inspectors achieve BPI certification. He also teaches at Kean University.  

Photo credit: Thomas Storck

Yuschak started his discussion with his definition of the BPI standard. “The Building Performance Institute (BPI) develops standards for energy efficiency retrofit work using an open, transparent, consensus-based process, built on building standards. From these standards, we develop professional certifications for individuals, company-wide credentials for BPI GoldStar Contractors, home energy rating systems and quality assurance services that help raise the bar in energy performance contracting.”     There are different levels and categories of BPI courses, which are outlined in detail on the BPI and Association for Energy Affordability websites. Selecting the best course, such as the Multifamily Building Analyst or the Envelope Professional, depends on a person’s area of interest and level of expertise. Passing a BPI exam requires both a written and field exam, coupled with practical experience in the field.  “Many state run energy efficiency weatherization programs demand BPI credentials,” he noted. “They are required for inspection and verification.”   He went on to discuss Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class sustainable building strategies and practices. According to Green Business Certification Inc., the organization that administers the program, “LEED is the only global rating system that offers regional approaches to environmental and building issues and local resources to help projects on the ground, wherever they are.  Building projects must meet certain prerequisites and earn points to receive one of four different levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. New construction and existing buildings are eligible, ranging across office and retail space, warehouses, data centers and health facilities as well as homes and even entire neighborhoods.”   The LEED Green Associate (GA) credential tests candidates on green building principles set forth by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the test is taken at Prometric centers throughout the country.  Pursuing a LEED Accredited Professional (AP), such as Building Design + Construction (BD+C) or Operations + Maintenance (O+M), is the next level of professional development through the USGBC. Candidates take a more specialized test within their area of expertise and must also demonstrate work experience.   Yuschak holds a LEED GA, which he feels is sufficient for his current work.  He noted that the test covers a large amount of information, so it’s important to take a longer preparatory course for the exam.   WELL Accredited Professional 

Photo credit: Thomas Storck

The next speaker was Peter Smith, Vice President, Delos Solutions. He has an extensive sustainability background as well as a knowledge of design and construction management. With a passion for architecture and the environment, he continues to seek out innovative technologies to advance building design and operation.  Through his work for Delos, the pioneering organization of the WELL Building Standard, Smith brought detailed information on the WELL Accredited Professional (AP) credential, offering a broad overview of its framework.  Since it is a newer accreditation started in 2015, he stressed it was a good time to seek  the credential.   Smith defined the WELL AP by saying it “signifies knowledge in human health and wellness in the built environment, and specialization in the well building standard. The WELL AP serves as a consultant and the primary source of WELL Certification expertise for your project.  It provides a model for design and construction to integrate human health features into the built environment.” He added, “The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system measuring seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL takes a body systems approach by showing a simple way that the built environment affects the human body.”   He concluded by saying, “The WELL AP exam is comparable to the preparation for the LEED AP. It is administered by Green Business Certification Inc. and the test is taken at Prometric”. The WELL Building Standard has several online resources available to learn more about the building standard and the AP credential.   Certified Energy Management (CEM)

Photo credit: Thomas Storck

The final speaker was Mina Agarabi, PE, CEM, CPMP, CMVP. She is the principal mechanical engineer at Agarabi Engineering PLLC, a New York WBE certified consulting firm focused on operations and maintenance, on-going Commissioning and energy efficiency. Prior to establishing her firm, she conducted light commercial and residential energy assessments and oversaw the installation of numerous energy-efficiency projects at Association for Energy Affordability and Steven Winter Associates. Agarabi has several years of experience troubleshooting, optimizing and designing steam and hydronic heating systems in large multifamily buildings.     Agarabi gave great career insight along with an overview of the various energy management specialties. The Engineers Association of America describes the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) as “an individual who optimizes the energy performance of a facility, building, or industrial plant.” The CEM is a systems integrator for electrical, mechanical, process, and building infrastructure, analyzing the optimum solutions to reduce energy consumption in a cost effective approach.” Agarabi said, “Some of these certifications are required to provide services to the business owner. For example, the utility company provides incentives but you have to have these certifications for your client to be eligible for the savings.”   She went on to explain that the CEM exam requires knowledge of code and economics, energy audits, procurement and financing, and combined heat and power (CHP) and renewable energy systems. Candidates for the CEM exam must be licensed engineers or have a 4-year engineering or architecture degree. Additionally, three years of experience in engineering is required.   Agarabi stressed the importance of knowing what certificate will fit into your overall career goals. Her advice was to “build a solid network, continue education, and stay engaged.” She added, “Be aware of where your industry and company are going. Know who you work for. Is it worth it to invest the time and money into a specific certification?” Also be aware that some certifications require re-certification every few years.   Clearly, there are a variety of certifications in the sustainable building field, ranging from highly specialized to an overall holistic approach. In each case, it’s important to take a comprehensive course to prepare for the exam. Each speaker stressed the usefulness of certifications but also the importance of knowing how they apply to your specific work place, and the benefits to your career goals.  Emerging and continuing professionals should research options relevant to their industry and interests in order to bolster their careers in the most impactful way.