What Designers Need To Know about Sustainability Certifications

In the design industry, sustainable practices have only recently entered mainstream education. Consequently, many present-day designers may lack formal training in sustainable design. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation, established in 1994, stands out as one of the earliest and most esteemed sustainability certifications for architecture and design professionals. Nevertheless, numerous alternative certifications to LEED have emerged, many of which are provided through continuing education programs.

According to Business of Home, what do you stand to gain from pursuing sustainability-related certification? The designers we spoke with reported learning a lot while studying for accreditation exams, but none believed eco credentials had changed the course of their career. Instead, they’ve used their credentials to bolster their authority and signal their interest in sustainability. For example, interior designer Leah Connolly, the founder of Studio Connolly in Sacramento, chose to pursue becoming a LEED Green Associate “to further my education and give me a little bit more of a foundation to take my business in a sustainable direction.” Plus, she felt it lent her firm authority: “When I decided to go out on my own, I wanted to have that extra credibility.”

Before pursuing a certificate, it is important for designers to define their motivation. For example, Connolly suspects LEED accreditation is most valuable for design professionals who anticipate that they will be working exclusively on projects seeking the certification, which are most often multiunit, new construction (it is rare for a single-family residence, for example). Others might pursue accreditation to deepen their knowledge of a niche. Sarah Barnard, an interior designer based in Southern California, pursued the LEED AP designation in 2007 and then went on to attain the WELL AP designation (more on that below) a decade later, as her interest in wellness in interiors deepened.

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