The Future Is Now – USGBC’s Decisions Can Sustain Our Forests

It’s been close to a month since Draft 3 of the new LEED 2012 language was released, and my initial reaction has not changed. I’m pleased to see there are credits specific for whole building Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Product Declarations, and I look forward to seeing how these credits get accessed moving forward.  However, I remain disappointed with requirements related to local sourcing and forest certification.

In the latest draft, local sourcing is overly restrictive and confusing – in some instances the local sourcing radius has been reduced from 500 miles to 50 miles – which is obviously not helpful for rural-based economies such as the forest products sector. And the “FSC or Better” language in the latest LEED Draft does a disservice to those organizations attempting to constructively engage and support responsible forestry and wood products from well-managed forests. Laura Thompson of Sappi said it well in her Environmental Quotient blog when she said she is “shocked that such a leading organization would write what amounts to me as a sloppy reference in a standard. ‘FSC or better’? ”

That’s so true. What are the criteria to determine “better”? How will they be assessed, and by whom? With so many different Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards around the world, which one will the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) pick as its baseline? Will USGBC rise to the occasion and give credits for responsible forestry beyond FSC? Or will USGBC take us all down this long path of trying to decipher the baselines and the winners?

For years SFI has been promoting choice and inclusion of forest certification standards, and we don’t believe it is constructive to be forced to explain why we are better than FSC. This type of conversation is occurring because of USGBC’s new language.

Ninety percent of the world’s forests are not certified at all, and USGBC can drive demand for more certified lands by recognizing all credible certification standards – including SFI, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), American Tree Farm System (ATFS), FSC and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). These programs are pillars of responsible forestry, and they all serve a variety of land ownerships and markets. Together we are building the future of our forests upon which forest products, multiple values and communities can be sustained.

Our advice to the USGBC is to drop “FSC or better” and instead use the criteria for forest certification set out by the National Association of State Foresters forest certification policy or better yet – recognize the 10 percent of the world’s forests that are certified, be it to FSC or standards recognized by PEFC, including SFI, ATFS and CSA.

LEED is a precedent setting standard – many retailers rely on it to define responsible forest management. The decisions USGBC makes today will determine the future health of our forests and our communities.

Here’s my message to USGBC: The future is decided now, and I hope you will play a pivotal role in keeping well-managed forests and communities alive and thriving.

What Experts are Saying

No doubt USGBC will receive lots of feedback about its draft language. We opened up our Good for Forests blog, and many others voiced their opinions on the topic of FSC or Better:

    • Dick Brinker, Dean Emeritus, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, says SFI training requirements are making a huge difference, and some states point to it as one reason for consistent improvement in their best management practices to protect water quality.
    • University of Toronto former Dean and Professor Tat Smith says that SFI certification exceeds FSC in the area of research, and that by including SFI, the USGBC would be telling researchers “it values the work and knowledge we have achieved through the SFI program.”
    • SFI Board Chair Bob Luoto, who owns a logging business in rural Oregon, says as long as USGBC limits its LEED-certified wood credit to FSC, “it is turning its back on my community as well as other communities in North America.”
    • Larry Selzer, President of The Conservation Fund and Vice-Chair of the SFI Board of Directors, says if USGBC “wants to help us keep working forests as forests, it will acknowledge SFI’s leadership in the area of responsible forestry.”
    • The National Association of State Foresters’ Randy Dye says it is “disturbing that the USGBC would continue to pick one certification program at the expense of others that were developed with U.S. forests and communities in mind.”
    • Union leader Bill Street of the International Association of Machinists says the “ideological driven ‘exclusivity’ of FSC means that systems such as LEED contribute to rural poverty and unemployment while simultaneously adding economic pressure to convert forest land to non-forest land uses . . .”
    • Auditor Mike Ferrucci says: “If the USGBC’s goal is to reward excellence, products from forests certified to SFI should be equally entitled to LEED certified wood credits.”
    • Michael Goergen, Executive Vice-President and CEO of the Society of American Foresters says “ ‘FSC or better’ is neither logical nor scientific. Especially when it continues to reinforce misconceptions about third-party forest certification and responsible forest practices.”
    • Sappi’s Laura Thompson says exclusion of SFI-certified products is based on a lack of understanding of complex supply chains because a paper product labeled as FSC certified may actually have more SFI fiber than FSC fiber “and yet USGBC is saying they will only recognize it when it is FSC certified.”
    • Pat Sirois, Coordinator of the Maine SFI Implementation Committee, says the USGBC position suggests it “does not value the many contributions made by volunteer members of the Maine SFI Implementation Committee who work hard to broaden the practice of sustainable forestry on certified and uncertified lands in our state.”
    • Ryan Clark of Capacity Forest Management, which manages forestry operations for First Nations clients in British Columbia, says: “If the U.S. Green Building Program wants to support North America’s forests and its indigenous peoples, it will expand the LEED certified wood to recognize all of North America’s certification standards.”

SFI has always been committed to green building, and we are pleased that numerous green building rating tools around the world and across North America treat all forest certification standards the same. We are looking forward to the day when we can support USGBC for making a decision that supports responsible forestry, jobs and communities across North America.

Respected organizations are calling on the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize all credible certification programs used in North America for its LEED rating system – including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association, Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. After the LEED Rating System Third Public Comment Period closes March 27, USGBC members will vote on the final draft.

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