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“It’s a lot of memorization and quite honestly was one of the hardest tests I’ve ever taken. I took this test for the first time back in 2007 and you know, me being a 4.0 student back in high school, always getting good grades, when I saw my first practice test came back with like 25% correct, I knew that this was one that I was going to have to put a little more effort into.” ~Pat Flynn on the LEED exam.
Pat Flynn, creator of Green Exam Academy
I had a chance to go to San Diego recently for Social Media Marketing World. It’s a fantastic event with an unbelievable list of speakers. And it’s the only conference that I know of with a reception on an aircraft carrier. I learned a lot and got back home with a thousand ideas to try out. But the highlight of the trip was getting a chance to interview Pat Flynn who was speaking at the event. Pat’s an author, podcaster, blogger and creator of GreenExamAcademy.com a website that’s helped thousands of people pass the LEED exam. In 2007 Pat was working in an architecture firm and studying for the LEED exam. He started putting all of his notes online and eventually organized it all into a website. Now it’s a huge site with study guides, practice exams and classes. Thousands of people have used it to help prepare for the test.
DB: I’m here with Pat Flynn, founder of GreenExamAcademy.com, which is a website that helps you prepare for the LEED exam. So Pat, I’m sure a lot of people have heard the phrase LEED certified and they probably know almost nothing about what that means they know it has something to do with sustainability. Can you give us the background on that.
What is the LEED exam?
PF: Right, well LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it’s an accreditation that the United States Green Building Council can give to certain buildings that meet a certain requirement for, like you said, sustainability and there are a lot of different categories related to things all the way from how the building is designed, to the energy use, to the water usage, all that sort of stuff. But you can kind of see it in two different ways. One, a building can be LEED certified, a building can have the efficiencies or meet the certain requirements to earn LEED certification and a lot of people use that who own a building or who access to buildings in terms of marketing. And it just shows that the environment was considered when the building was going up.
But my approach is more for the people who want to become LEED Accredited Professionals, and these are people who study for and then take an exam and pass it to be able to earn the right to work on a building. And a building, in order to to become LEED certified has to have someone who is a LEED AP, somebody who has passed this test, work on this, facilitate that discussion and become the liaison in between the United States Green Building Council and everybody who is working on it.
There’s a lot involved with putting a building up and making it LEED certified. But with the test specifically, which is what I work on most with people, through offering practice exams and study guides. It’s a lot of memorization and quite honestly was one of the hardest tests I’ve ever taken. I took this test for the first time back in 2007 and you know, me being a 4.0 student back in high school, always getting good grades, when I saw my first practice test came back with like 25% correct, I knew that this was one that I was going to have to put a little more effort into. So I built a website called Green Exam Academy to really focus on studying for this exam and exactly what we needed to memorize to pass, and 10s of thousands of people have ended up using my site, the free content on the site and some of the items that one can purchase, classes, practice exams to help them pass the test.
DB: So how many people take the test each year would you say?
PF: I would say several thousand people take the test, and I think the current passing rate, it’s climbed over the years, but I think it’s about 50 to 60% now, which is still quite low for a test. But it’s obviously very important stuff, so I’m kind of glad that it’s more difficult because the people who are going to be LEED APs, we know that they’re able and capable of working on buildings to make them sustainable in the way that the United States Green Building Council wants them.
DB: Are there different types of LEED APs for different professions in the building industry?
PF: Yes, it’s interesting because initially it was just, you were a LEED AP and that’s it. But then they started to categorize them and have specialties so there’s LEED NC, which is new construction, for example. There’s EB, which is existing buildings. There’s also for homes and schools. And you know there’s a whole array of them. So for whatever your specialty is you want to make sure you take that particular exam. There’s also the sort of more general test you could take too. So you have to take sort of the general green exam, the GA test, and that will give you the first level of passing but then you have to take the specialty one too for whatever your specialty is.
DB: I see. Is that the green associate test?
PF: The Green Associate exam yeah. And it’s undergone several revisions over time but it does talk more about the general aspects. Everything from administration of facilitating a LEED building going up to some of the more general concepts related to some of the more specific categories that are universal across all the different specializations.
DB: It seems like this is kind of an unusual program in a way. It’s not governmental, it’s not exactly regulatory, right? Where did it come from and why has it grown in popularity?
PF: I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s grown. Everybody is becoming more environmentally conscious now and this is just a way to really put numbers to it, to quantify it. I think everybody over the last decade or so has wanted to become more environmentally conscious but they didn’t know how. And the United States Green Building Council was formed and they came up with this program and the accreditation and LEED itself, to really just quantify and to put some numbers behind actually making a building healthy and not just healthy in terms of the environment but also for the people inside too. That’s another important component, is the air quality that people will experience in that particular design. So it really covers all the bases in terms of the footprint and the experience that users of a building will have.
DB: Do you start to see any of the specifics of the LEED requirements work their way into local building codes? Has that happened at all?
PF: That has happened. I will be honest, I don’t know too much on the building end of what’s been happening with regulations and whatnot. I’m focusing on those who are trying to pass the exam and like most things, I’m going to be honest, passing the exam is one thing but actually going out in the field, working with contractors on a specific LEED project, that’s what’s really going to give you the most LEED experience. And if possible, even before you take the exam, try to get on a project, if you have access, that is going through LEED certification or one that is being built that will earn that certification. It’s really good to get that experience first hand, even before you try to become a LEED accredited professional yourself.
DB: Do you think the credentials for being a LEED professional are almost as important as the degree now?
PF: I think so. A lot of people who hire look for LEED specific accolades on a resume for example. If somebody were to have a position to fill and there were two candidates and one had LEED accredited accolades and the other didn’t they’re going to take the one who has the LEED knowledge.
DB: You were telling me a little bit about some of the renewable energy things you’ve done on your house.
PF: So we run solar on our home. It’s great and I love it because it quantifies how much of an impact it’s making and how much less energy we’re actually using from the grid an whatnot. And so there’s an app that goes with this particular company that we’re using. It’s cool. I like to see it actually working. You know we live in San Diego and it’s quite sunny most of the time. So, it’s nice.
I’m also very focused now on renewable energy in other ways. We’re using this kind of energy in more efficient manners. I just bought a Tesla, which is nice, and I’m a big fan of Elon Musk and what he’s trying to do. The model 3 is now a big deal and everybody knows about it and 200,000 people put a downpayment to get one in a couple years. So his whole plan of getting that out there to the masses is working. It’s really cool to see. I think in the future solar is going to be in every home. It’s going to get much cheaper. It’s still kind of weird in terms of the leasing and how it works with the different power companies and whatnot. But I love the direction it’s going for sure. And we’re gonna see a lot more wind and other forms. That’s why I’m really big on it. You know I have a six year old son and he goes to a STEM school. And they’re a lot of science and technology there. The kids that are there now in those types of schools are going to be the ones to come up with the solutions that are really going to save us. And it’s really cool to see my son whose six for example be inspired by people like Elon Musk. And I’m trying to show him the way through what I have access to right now like running solar on the home and showing him how it works and just being smart about the energy use we have.
DB: So Pat, how did you get interested in the environment and renewable energy in general?
PF: Well my interest really came from trying to take the LEED exam because when I was in architecture still, I got laid off in ‘08, but before that I was doing everything I could to stand out, to become a star employee, to just really show my boss that I was here and here to stay even though in 2008 they kept me as long as possible and then let me go anyway. I was taking all the exams that I could. I was going to seminars. LEED was just one component of that master plan of trying to do everything I could to learn about the world of architecture. And when I got laid off that was the thing that was the thing that was the number one priority at the time and I noticed that so many other people needed help in that realm and that was really where my interest started for it. It was with the exam. And quite honestly approaching it to add it to my resume but then falling in love with the idea of sustainable energy from there.
DB: That’s great. Well now your life is probably very different from when you were working in an architecture firm and you have several online businesses. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
PF: Sure, you know when I created that website back in 2008 to help people pass the LEED exam with greenexamacademy.com, a lot of my friends, a lot of people online were like, “How did you do that? How did you survive that layoff in ‘08?” A lot of people went back to school and here I was building a successful business. They were wondering how it is I was able to do that. So I built a website to show people and to talk about all the things I was doing, things that I wished I had learned earlier, things that were working and very honest and upfront. Essentially I entered the online entrepreneur, internet marketing space but I wasn’t doing it to make money. I was doing it just to share everything because my LEED exam business, helping people to pass that test, was making more money than I was making as an architect. And then now this platform at SmartPassiveIncome.com has really taken off. I have a podcast and I have a YouTube channel that goes along with it to really help with just general marketing and online business, social media best practices.
DB: And you have a new book.
PF: And I have a new book. It’s called Will It Fly, How to Test Your Next Business Idea so You Don’t Waste Your Time and Money. And you know I call myself the crash test dummy of online business. You know I put myself on the line. I try new things and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But whatever the case may be, just like every good crash test dummy does, I go back to my audience and I report back for everybody’s betterment and what I learned through the years of building my own businesses and helping others build their own businesses too, is that a lot of motivation and success can come from knowing whether an idea you have is going to work out or not. You know, validating your ideas before you actually put in the years, the time, the money, the sweat equity, with working on things.
Traditionally people, when they have a business idea, they just never act on it or they act too fast and they build it out without ever asking people or understanding their market. And this book will help you take an idea and using a small sample size of your target audience, really understand if it’s something people will actually pay for. It’ll save you time and money if it doesn’t work out so you can move on to one that actually does help people or realizing quickly that it is something that’s going to work and then you can just up what you’ve done to test it.
DB: Alright. That’s great. One last question. How do you like your Tesla, and which model do you have, tell us a little bit about it.
PF: I love, love, love my Tesla. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks but it’s the model X so the sort of crossover, SUV style one with the falcon wing doors, which is like as close to a DeLorean as I’ll ever get I think. So it lives out that dream of mine. And it’s… oh man, it flies and it’s so quiet. It’s one of the most incredible pieces of technology I’ve ever seen. And to be able to drive in it and just feel very safe in doing so. It’s amazing. Like I said earlier what Elon and Tesla is doing is revolutionary completely and I’m very happy to support that and be a part of it and be an ambassador for that too.
DB: Alright. Well thank you so much Pat. I really appreciate your time.
PF: Thank you for having me David.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to get a chance to interview Pat at Social Media Marketing World. He’s one of the most popular speakers at the event and he’s kind of a hero for podcasters and bloggers. He was incredibly busy and he went out of his way to make time to talk to me. If you’re studying for the LEED exam, definitely check out his site, greenexamacademy.com. However, if you’re interested in podcasting, blogging or online business you should go to smartpassiveincome.com. He has a blog, a couple of podcasts and a new book called Will It Fly, all of which are full of useful information. I’ve certainly learned a lot from him.
Thank you to Hannah Fiddler and Medoki from Bloomington’s MISSFITS Music & Arts collective for this week’s music.