Heather Benjamin
4 minute read

Experienced LEED professionals share tips for working with clients and enhancing visibility.

LEED professionals make a difference—bringing their deep knowledge of architecture, design, construction and sustainability topics to every project on which they work.

Experienced green building consultants juggle a lot of projects, client needs and other professional commitments—not to mention keeping up with what's new in the field. Many of those industry professionals share their expertise as LEED Fellows and USGBC Faculty, while meeting client goals every day.

Two LEED APs, Kath Williams, Principal at Kath Williams + Associates and LEED Fellow 2011, and Lauren M. Wallace, Principal and Director of Certifications and Consulting at The Epsten Group, Inc. and current USGBC Faculty member, shared their experience and advice with USGBC.

Tips from the experts

Understand that every client is different.

Helping clients achieve LEED certification requires finesse in the goal-setting process as well as the execution, say both Williams and Wallace.

"Start with basics," advises Williams. "On projects, if we start with needs versus wants, we make tremendous progress in a positive fashion."

Similarly, Wallace states that her company focuses on what makes sense for the particular client. "We don’t chase points," she explains. "We give very explicit guidance on the added hard costs or soft costs of chasing credits during the Integrative Process, and we set the sustainability goals as early in the process as possible, so that there aren’t any surprise costs that would curveball goals tied to the culture, goals or budget."

Wallace works with clients who "want to shoot for the moon," as well as with those who must achieve certain certification levels because of local regulations or initiatives. However, she maintains a consistent approach to achieving LEED credits. "We follow the same process regardless of the client’s sustainability profile," she says.

Use your expertise to lift others up.

Williams finds all aspects of sharing her green building expertise—speaking, teaching, reviewing courses—to be rewarding and beneficial.

"Being a LEED Fellow (one of the first class of 34) has been one of the biggest honors of my life," she shares. "It has also been the most helpful in giving me access to and credibility for learning opportunities around the world. I am often invited globally as a keynote speaker, and it gives me an opportunity to bring emotion and heart to what we do."

As a true believer in the sustainability movement, Williams says that she knows "that what we do matters, and that we are giving something to the world—as a community—that few other groups do."

Wallace especially appreciates speaking opportunities. "Because our company has such a unique perspective on the LEED rating system as reviewers, consultants and owners/practitioners, we find that speaking at events is the best way to convey our expertise or share all of our knowledge," she says. From the USGBC Faculty program, her firm has gained traction in recent years from a series comparing LEED 2009 to LEED v4 and explaining the changes to local USGBC communities.

Be at the vanguard of the green movement.

Keeping up with emerging technologies and trends in green buildings, plus updates to LEED and other rating systems, could be another full-time job. Williams finds Greenbuild to be a fertile place for learning about the latest developments. She also converses with other LEED Fellows and reads plenty of industry magazines, such as Metropolis, Hotels and Harvard Business Review.

For her part, Wallace "stays intrinsically involved through multiple avenues," such as continuing education, working with her local USGBC community and providing speaking engagements. "Staying ahead of the curve on umbrella certifications that have crosswalks with the LEED rating system" is also a big priority for Wallace.

Speak to what matters most.

With plenty of priorities in green building and sustainability, how do you decide what is most important to talk about?

"Using the three-legged stool model, the environmental leg seemed the strongest," says Williams. "Then we gained traction with data to support the financial leg. Now, I think we are getting a grip on the 'people' leg, where we have data on productivity; we are embracing the concept of community, caring about social equity, and supporting healthy and happy lifestyles. We are headed toward a better balance."

Wallace wishes that resiliency were being discussed more in her region. "That isn’t really on the radar for most companies in the Southeast, besides federal and state government projects in the coastal areas," she explains.

Therefore, "the biggest topic we mention is health and wellness, since there is such an easy tie to the return on investment for corporate wellness, compared to reduced energy costs," says Wallace.

Also, ASHRAE/LEED crosswalks are a critical area of focus. "Our work is global, so we certainly speak a lot to the changes between the different ASHRAE standards referenced throughout LEED, but for our local projects, those changes are literally making or breaking achievement of LEED for state-of-the-art facilities like it never did in the past," Wallace says.

Resources from USGBC

Staying up to date on what your clients need

What are your clients asking about? Net zero? LEED v4.1? Inclusion and accessibility? The Education @USGBC platform offers plenty of online courses, both on the basics of green building and on the cutting edge of sustainability developments.

  • Dig deep into LEED v4.1 with USGBC's "Ask the Experts" webinar recordings, where you can listen to answers from our experts on specific user questions about how this new update to the LEED rating system will affect your projects.
  • Similarly, the "Live with LEED Fellows" webcast recordings share insights on topics like "Lessons Learned from a Decade of LEED Projects," "Building the Right Project Team" and "The Value of an Integrative Process in LEED."
  • As net zero becomes the new standard for building, it's worth taking courses on the concept and gaining an energy efficiency badge to showcase your knowledge.

Is your usgbc.org profile current? Check your bio and badges to make sure your expertise displays correctly to current and future clients.

If you'd like a slide deck with useful talking points, "Why LEED for your clients?" is designed to support your presentations.

Sharing your expertise with other green professionals

Looking for ways to advance green building while maintaining your position as an industry expert? USGBC has many paths for sharing your knowledge with other professionals.

  • Join USGBC Faculty, a diverse array of sustainability pros who may educate through in-person training, event sessions, webinars on Education @USGBC or being matched with businesses in need of expert consultations.
  • Apply to become a LEED Fellow. Fellows are LEED APs who have acquired significant technical knowledge and skills over at least 10 years and are honored for their history of exemplary leadership, service and advocacy in sustainability.
  • Become a member of a LEED Committee, which are recruiting through August 30 for seven technical advisory groups. These groups provide advice regarding LEED credit and prerequisite improvement and supporting tool development.
  • Push the growth of LEED by proposing a pilot credit that covers a new area of green building or LEED project management.
  • Strive for an Innovation credit for your project, if you've achieved inventive or exemplary results above and beyond the requirements of the LEED rating system.

Advanced sessions at Greenbuild Atlanta

Check out the latest technologies and trends in green building at Greenbuild Atlanta in November. While you're there, explore these sessions designed specifically for advanced green building professionals:

Maximizing Impact: Renewable Energy Criteria in LEED v4.1

Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2:30–3:30 p.m. | 1 GBCI CE credit

Hear from expert members of USGBC’s Energy and Atmosphere Technical Advisory Group on the development process and goals of renewable energy criteria in the new LEED v4.1 rating systems. Learn about renewable energy procurement mechanisms and contracts that qualify for LEED credit, as well as how investment in renewables can translate into real greenhouse gas emissions reductions at the grid scale.

Thinking Like Water: Achieving Net Zero Water on Urban Sites

Friday, Nov. 22, 10–11:30 a.m. | 1.5 GBCI CE credits

Learn from the owner, architect, landscape architect, and engineer on the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design project at Georgia Tech, as they describe their pursuit of LEED Platinum and LEED Zero Water and Energy certifications. Discover how strategic selection of building, site and water systems, as well as a robust operational approach, can overcome the special challenges of urban sites and help generate cultural and ecological renewal.

Explore Education @USGBC resources