Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI – Support Forest Professionals and Responsible Forest Practices

Michael T. Goergen Jr.
Executive Vice-President and CEO, Society of American Foresters

March 19, 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, Michael Goergen, Executive Vice-President and CEO, Society of American Foresters, and Chair, SFI External Review Panel, looks at the benefits of forest certification for foresters and forest practices. The Society of American Foresters has 17,000 members and represents all segments of the forestry profession in the United States.

‘FSC or better’ is neither logical nor scientific. Especially when it continues to reinforce misconceptions about third-party forest certification and responsible forest practices.

Certification programs like Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and American Tree Farm System do so much to advance our work and our profession. Certification empowers foresters, giving us the authority and tools to work with landowners on actions that are necessary to support sustainable forest management.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is out of step with green building councils in other countries who understand the value of promoting all credible forest certification standards. As a result, LEED risks discouraging the use of forest products from well-managed forests, one of North America’s greatest natural resources and an excellent choice for green building. Forest products should receive recognition in green building systems regardless of certification, and should receive extra credit if they are certified to one of the widely accepted North American standards.

USGBC accepts questionable facts from the small but determined group of market campaigners who promote FSC and appear to want an FSC monopoly. Competition between these certification systems is valuable and allows forest professionals the opportunity to improve the systems through science and experience. Campaigners attack SFI on clearcutting and chemical use but ignore FSC’s own standards that, as they should, allow these practices around the world. Clearcutting and chemical use when appropriately applied are important tools for forest management.

At the Society of American Foresters, we support the use of proven silvicultural methods to meet diverse forest management objectives – and this includes clearcutting. FSC and SFI both certify forests with clearcuts. Some FSC forest standards in North America have smaller clearcut limits than those specified in the SFI Standard. And some FSC standards don’t have maximum clearcut limits at all – including four that account for more than one half FSC-certified lands globally* – FSC Canada’s National Boreal Standard (25% of FSC-certified land), the Russian National FSC Standard (20%), the Swedish FSC Standard (8%) and the Brazil Amazon Terra Firme Standard (3%).There are also no limits in two interim standards in New Zealand and Australia, and in the Regional Certification Standards for British Columbia. This may be totally appropriate based on forest type and composition, but clearcutting in North America is also appropriate and necessary to create certain habitat types and promote regeneration of our forests.

Another topical issue with the USGBC has been chemical use in forestry. The U.S. Forest Service says pesticides are one part of an integrated approach to managing insects, disease and invasive plant problems. Both FSC and SFI recognize this, and both allow minimal use of chemical where appropriate.  It’s true FSC prohibits ‘highly hazardous pesticides’ but under official FSC policy, forest managers can apply for a pesticide derogation/exemption– and 74 derogations/exemptions have been approved by FSC International worldwide; 43 of them on FSC-certified plantation management.

I am also Chair of the independent SFI External Review Panel, and our role is to take a detailed, unbiased, thorough look at the SFI Standard – and offer advice to the SFI Board of Directors. I like what I see. We monitored the standard review process that led to the SFI 2010-2014 Standard, and found it was a model of open, transparent consideration of public input, scientific and economic factors, and conflicting demands. We follow its implementation and challenge the program to continuously improve. USGBC could learn a lesson from SFI.

In order to forward responsible forestry and the work of professionals that are engaged in this complex task, USGBC should recognize all credible certification programs used in North America, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, and the Forest Stewardship Council. All of these systems are empowering forest management and making a difference on the ground.

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 is open until March 20, 2012. At the end of the review period, USGBC members will vote on the final draft.

*Numbers accurate as of March 2012

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