Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI – Supporting North American Forests and Communities through Green Building

Robert A. (Bob) Luoto
Owner and Operator of Cross & Crown, Inc.

The U.S. Green Building Council is inviting 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, Bob Luoto, Owner and Operator of Cross & Crown, Inc. and Chair of the SFI Board of Directors, talks about how the SFI program supports rural timber-dependent communities.

My name is Bob Luoto, and I am the third generation within my family to go into logging. I have been a professional logger for 38 years. My wife, Betsy, and I own Cross & Crown, Inc., our family logging business out of Carlton, Oregon. Our son, Kirk, is 30 years old, and is the fourth generation of Luoto men to enter into our business. His 4-year-old son, Landon, could choose to become the fifth generation to take over our family business – if our business can survive that long.

In rural, timber-dependent America, the economic decline began years before the rest of the country ever felt a thing. In my experience, we are usually among the last to recover. It is having a terrible impact on so many of our family, friends and neighbors, and on our own business.

As long as U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) limits its LEED-certified wood credit to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), it is turning its back on my community as well as other communities in North America. Our company and our employees, as well as other timber-based companies, have suffered and will continue to suffer if we send jobs out of the country by denying LEED certified wood credits for fiber from certifications to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) Standard. By giving preferential treatment to FSC, which has 90 percent of its certified land outside the United States, USGBC discourages the use of timber and other forest by‑products harvested on three million acres of lands certified to the SFI Standard in Oregon alone. This obviously is harmful to rural communities and the families who live and work in them. It is telling my son, who has become a partner in our family business, that the industry has no future for him or his children.

What is most distressing to me is that there is no good reason for this decision not to equally and explicitly include all forest certifications including SFI.  I work on lands certified to SFI, and I am proud of what I see our people accomplishing on SFI-certified land every day. All of my employees are trained in Best Management Practices thanks to SFI requirements.  SFI certification makes our work much safer and keeps North American harvested timber ready for use in rural towns and large cities all across North America. It is for this reason that we must not forget that SFI recognizes approximately three quarters of the certified forests in North America and yet only 10% of the world’s forests are certified.

I have been actively involved with the American Loggers Council for 16 years. We were among many invited to be at the table to shape the SFI program back in the 1990s, and have been partners ever since. I currently chair the SFI Board of Directors, and can attest to the knowledge, the expertise, the care that this independently run board uses in all of its decision-making.

USGBC should show that it cares about rural communities like Carlton and small businesses like Cross & Crown, Inc. by recognizing SFI.  It should show that it is a leader by dropping any barrier that discourages builders from using certified wood products from North America. By doing this, it can help us keep our own business alive and well for our son and our grandchildren, and promote the responsible management of hundreds of millions of acres of forestland throughout North America.

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