Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI: Beyond Green Construction – Why Papermakers Should Pay Attention

Dr. Laura M. Thompson
Director, Technical Marketing and Sustainable Development
Sappi Fine Paper, North America

March 20, 2012

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is asking for comments on the draft language for its LEED rating system. SFI Inc. has invited views on the treatment of third-party forest certification, which must be “FSC or better” according to the latest USGBC credit language. In this post, Laura Thompson, Director of Technical Marketing and Sustainable Development for Sappi Fine Paper, North America, talks about the benefits of inclusive policies. Follow her through her blog The Environmental Quotient or on Twitter at @eQLauraThompson.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed one of the leading rating tools for design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings. Their LEED rating tool is built upon a point system based on a breadth of criteria for energy and environmental design. One criteria addresses sourcing wood from certified forests. Within LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, points are awarded for procurement of consumables (e.g. envelopes, tissue products, and copy paper) that are FSC certified. In a recent update to their rating tool, USGBC has indicated that points for certified wood would be awarded for products that are “FSC or better.” This designation has caused quite a stir amongst many stakeholders.

Sappi has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards including the Canadian Standards Association, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). With 90% of the world’s forests not certified to reputable standards, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case “better”). It is clear that the principles of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and both promote responsible forestry across a range of social, economic and environmental issues. To quote from a review by Dovetail Partners: “Significant changes have occurred within the major certification programs in recent years, and, … it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between certification systems in North America.”

Sappi, like most paper suppliers, sources wood and fiber from multiple sources, certified and uncertified. In fact, it is possible to have a product that is labeled as FSC certified, but actually contains more fiber from SFI sources and yet USGBC is saying they will only recognize it when it is called FSC certified. The exclusion of SFI is based on a lack of understanding of complex supply chains and, in some ways, is a discrimination against labeling practices. The paper has both types of fiber in it and yet only one label can be granted points according to USGBC’s latest language.

But beyond our official position on inclusive policies, and beyond the apparent hypocrisy surrounding points for paper labeling, I am shocked that such a leading organization would write what amounts to me as a sloppy reference in a standard. “FSC or better”? What does this mean? Even if we are to grant that FSC is “better” on some criteria I think it can also be argued that SFI is better in other areas. I am certainly not the only one pondering this issue of subjectivity, and supporters of SFI have been writing some insightful guest blog posts in reaction to this recent announcement. Be sure to check out other postings and comments about SFI’s research requirements and logger training.

Sappi Fine Paper North America is a producer of coated fine paper, release paper and market pulp. Its coated fine papers are used in premium magazines, catalogs, books and high-end print advertising. Sappi’s release papers provide the surface aesthetics for synthetic fabrics used in footwear, clothing, upholstery and accessories, as well as the textures for decorative laminates found in kitchens, baths, flooring and other decorative surfaces. An integrated pulp and paper producer, with state-of-the-art pulp mills, Sappi is the third-largest seller of hardwood pulp in North America. For more information visit www.sappi.com/eq

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 and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. The LEED Rating System Third Public Comment Period closes today (March 20, 2012). At the end of the review period, USGBC members will vote on the final draft.

One thought on “Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI: Beyond Green Construction – Why Papermakers Should Pay Attention

  1. Pingback: USGBC extends deadline for comment on LEED standards » One Voice for Working Forests

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