LEED Approach to Certification: Slogans or Science?

Who knows what U.S. Green Building Council hopes to achieve with its latest draft language on forest certification in LEED.  The new draft LEED requirement “FSC or better” feels more like a slogan than thoughtful language intended for a green building rating tool – probably because that’s exactly what it is.  Those were the words on buttons worn by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) supporters at the 2011 USGBC GreenBuild show.

USGBC is moving away from science when it comes to forest certification.  While the latest draft language has some new opportunities for life cycle assessment and environmental data which is of relevance to wood, there remains a disconnect in terms of promoting and recognizing wood from responsibly managed forests.  There is a real disconnect when USGBC claims to be a standard that supports market transformation and yet chooses language that can undermine and disadvantage markets for three quarters of the certified forest products from North America.  Healthy markets for products from responsible forests means more forests will be managed responsibly.  Undermining those markets, however, can have numerous consequences, be they intentional or unintentional.

USGBC’s unwavering support for FSC shows it understands the value of third-party forest certification. But it is painting itself into a corner through a credit structure that could enable builders to turn their backs on 75 percent of North America’s certified forests if they want to chase LEED credits for certified wood.  The potential for this to happen is evidenced by FSC’s own 2010 Business value and Growth market survey (page 6) which found: “Nearly half of respondents have sought out an alternative supplier in another country when FSC certified timber or products were not available in their own country.”  USGBC is reinforcing the myth that only one forest certification standard is worth supporting – ignoring the fact respected organizations say otherwise and ignoring the fact that 90 percent of the world’s forests aren’t even certified.

SFI remains committed to ensuring all forest products from responsible sources and certified forests gain equal access to credits in LEED rating tools.  While we agree that the 90% of FSC’s certified forests that are certified outside the US, i.e. outside USGBC’s home turf, should get access to LEED, not for a minute do we believe that these FSC products should get preferential access to LEED certified wood credits over products certified to standards in use in North America, such as SFI, ATFS and CSA – all of which SFI recognizes.

If through the language “FSC or better” USGBC’s aim is to allow credits for certification standards that are better for forests, for other forest values and for forest communities, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) can certainly show we match – and often exceed – FSC requirements.   SFI will post a number of blogs between now and March 20 when the LEED public comment period ends to show how many unique attributes the SFI standard has that supports responsible forestry in communities across North America.  We will show how SFI goes beyond and above the uneven nature of FSC’s varied standards and how SFI focuses on things that matter here at home, such as research, logger training and landowner outreach. But let’s be clear, SFI is a standard that is grounded and founded in North America, that reflects social, economic and environmental priorities that are of relevance here at home – this is our strength and this should not be overlooked.

The decisions USGBC makes today about green building and certification will affect our forests and our communities well into the future. By refusing to be inclusive like other green building rating tools, it diminishes the value of certification and that diminishes the value of our forests.

More to come…

2 thoughts on “LEED Approach to Certification: Slogans or Science?

  1. I am stunned that the USGBC would utilize such a subjective term: “FSC or better”. It certainly opens the door to interpretation. This will keep auditors busy for some time.
    At Sappi we always recommend inclusive language in paper procurement policies – and we are clear about which forest certification standards we endorse.
    I look forward to watching the commentary unfold – I am sure we will all learn from the discussion.

  2. Pingback: SFI pushes back against LEED standard » One Voice for Working Forests

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