"We promote ourselves as a leader in sustainability, and we wanted to make sure we walked the walk," says Sam Stadler of SRG Partnership, an architecture, planning, and interiors firm with offices in Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and San Francisco. One way to do that is to make sure every firm employee is LEED accredited. Stadler, a 2005 architecture graduate of the University of Oregon, says the LEED system is "far from a perfect measure of sustainability, but it's an important step." Looking beyond LEED, SRG has formally adopted the 2030 Challenge (a pledge to make its buildings carbon neutral by that date).

Becoming a LEED AP (that is, accredited professional) means passing a multiple-choice test of surprising complexity. The questions aren't about sustainability per se, but about how the LEED system measures it; the focus is on the credits a building can achieve for meeting various "reference standards" described in detail in LEED guidebooks. Stadler and an SRG colleague designed a program that would motivate their coworkers to take and pass the LEED exam by the start of 2009.

  • Sam Stadler of SRG Partnership says the firm wants to embrace the concept of sustainability and integrate it into everything we do. The firm hopes that 90 percent of its employees will be LEED accredited by early next year.
    Sam Stadler of SRG Partnership says the firm wants to "embrace the concept of sustainability and integrate it into everything we do." The firm hopes that 90 percent of its employees will be LEED accredited by early next year.

Prioritize the exam.

"The leadership in the office came out and asked everyone who's not accredited to try to take the exam by year's end," says Stadler. And that included not just architects and designers, but support personnel. The firm agreed to pay the exam registration fee (about $300) for every employee who passes.

Get people studying together.

Stadler organized a series of lunchtime training sessions?one a week for seven weeks, ending in late October. To keep the momentum going, he encouraged people to register to take the exam in November or early December.

Make the material concrete.

The training sessions, Stadler says, featured "people from the office that had worked with the LEED system on a project. If, for example, we were talking about site selection, we would bring in someone who worked on a building that had achieved seven of the 12 LEED site-selection credits." That helps people "visualize the concepts they're studying," he says.

Make study guides available.

The firm makes copies of the LEED reference guides available to employees to sign out overnight. But Stadler also wrote abbreviated versions of each section of the reference guide (he compares these to Cliffs Notes). "There's a lot of material, and it helps to break it down," he says.

Practice, practice, practice.

Several companies offer practice LEED exams online. One that Stadler likes is greenexamprep.com, which makes 320 practice questions available for two months for about $50. The program is interactive, which Stadler says is "really helpful. If you get a question wrong, the website will send you to the appropriate part of the reference guide and will also explain in plain English where you went wrong."

Organize your time.

You can't take study materials, computers, or even cell phones with you into the exam room. But you can have pencil and paper. The exam begins with a 10-minute orientation; Stadler recommends speeding through it, then using the remaining eight or nine minutes to write down a list of LEED credits and reference standards. Then you'll be able to answer questions by consulting the piece of paper, which is far less time-consuming than running through the material in your head for every question.

Don't be afraid to guess.

Your score is based on how many questions you get right. So if you don't know the answer to a question, go ahead and guess.