Let’s Move On: USGBC Needs to Define “Approved Equivalent”

On December 10th 2012, the U.S. Green Building Council will wrap up their 5th public comment period on the new LEED rating tools, LEED v4.  Much like the other drafts during this two year review, SFI Inc. strongly disagrees with the direction USGBC has taken in regards to recognizing forest certification standards. The 5th draft of LEED v4 reads, “Wood products must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or USGBC-approved equivalent.”  This language is problematic since FSC automatically qualifies for recognition over other forest certification standards such as SFI.  Furthermore, USGBC does not have a defined process or timeline to determine “USGBC-approved equivalent.”  How can USGBC ask members to vote on what is incomplete language, due to lack of process.

Since 2005, SFI certified-products have been excluded from the LEED forest certification/sourcing credit without a clearly communicated basis for that exclusion.  In credible, open and transparent processes, organizations know the basis of their program or standard’s exclusion, and with that information they can do three things:

  1. make changes to be included;
  2. educate those on a misperception; or
  3. move on due to a lack of alignment between institutional objectives.

USGBC has dragged their feet too long on this issue, all the while barring responsibly sourced products certified to the SFI standard from the LEED forest certification/sourcing credit.  This means North American forest products certified to SFI don’t get a LEED credit, and yet products from Russia, Brazil, China and other countries certified to FSC do get a credit in a US Green Building Council rating tool.  Other green building rating tools, standards and codes have come out with inclusive positions on forest certification.  This 8 year long process has also seen over 6000 petitioners and government officials across the United States and Canada voice their frustration with USGBC’s stance on this important issue.  Eighty-nine members of the U.S. Congress and 14 Governors have called on USGBC or created executive orders to ensure all forest certification standards including SFI get recognition in green building. Canadian government agencies have also let it be known that they recognize all credible forest certification standards including SFI.

SFI supports green building initiatives, tools, codes and standards that recognize all credible forest certification standards equally. Forest certification standards like SFI can serve as an important proof point for responsible forestry and wood sourcing. We will continue to urge the USGBC for equal recognition of SFI, ATFS, CSA, PEFC and FSC certification standards, and believe the USGBC should follow other leaders on this issue.  SFI Inc. will also urge the USGBC Board members to clarify why FSC meets their credit expectations and SFI does not.  This process of not defining what constitutes a credible forest certification program has carried on for too long.  Define it and let’s move on.

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