The Rites of Spring

The Rites of Spring

Like robins, Sun Belt baseball and daffodils poking their heads up from the soil, it seems to be a rite of spring for advocates of the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to go after each other about the relative credibility of each other’s forestry standards.

GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Mark Gunther reports on the latest salvo in the wood wars launched by Forest Ethics and promptly countered by SFI. The script is familiar: The advocates of deeper green call FSC barely adequate and the industry-supported SFI label nothing more than greenwash. The industry counters that they have made significant progress, so the big bad environmentalists should not pick on the poor little industry standard and can’t we all just get along.

As I have written before in this space and various other fora, there is no doubt that since SFI was launched in 1994 in response to the founding of FSC by environmental groups, it has made huge strides both as an organization and in terms of improved industrial forest practice. In essence, SFI has really cleaned up the factory floor. 

While this is a good thing compared with how things used to be, forests are not factories. Forests are living, intertwined ecosystems with 20 times the biodiversity of monoculture tree factories. 

For this and other reasons articulated in Gunther’s blog piece, seven companies, including five Fortune 500 companies, have signaled that they will be giving up use of the SFI label. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is to be commended for the significant improvement in environmental practices across the forestry industry, particularly across thousands of small family farms. However, it has not earned the mantle of a green standard. It remains, in my opinion, exactly as Office Depot has characterized it: “meet[ing-or setting … ] industry environmental standards.” 

It seems somewhat ironic that while leaders in the private sector (the companies jettisoning SFI) are focusing on doing the right things for the right environmental reasons, governments -- supposedly the setters and arbiters of policy -- are retrenching to what USGBC’s Jeremy Sigmon diplomatically calls “the far narrowed view of the single bottom line” in his excellent blog post on the state of state policymaking and green buildings.

Although Sigmon notes that several states are considering additional “leadership by example” steps, the overall mood is one of fiscal and creative austerity. Not surprisingly, perennial leaders in this field -- Maryland and California -- are singled out for their continued progress toward eliminating the concept of green buildings in favor of a regulatory structure where minimum code would not be considered “if you built it any worse it would be illegal.”

We can only hope that this retrenchment fervor peters out before it can roll back one of the more effective pieces of the Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law by President Bush at the end of 2007, that begins to sunset incandescent lamps from 2012 to 2014. Such a move would be disastrous at a time when Americans are increasingly beginning to favor more efficient lighting technologies such as CFLs and the newer LEDs.

The most recent EcoPinion survey conducted by the strategic marketing agency EcoAlign indicates consumers favor government regulation of energy efficiency. The survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide, showed that over two-thirds have some sort of energy efficient lighting in their homes -- not including the oxymoronic “efficient” incandescent lamps. In addition, a surprising 27 percent indicate that they have installed LEDs, though the primary driver appears to be brightness and quality, not energy efficiency.

A recent report from Pike Research describes in detail the commercial building retrofit opportunity as of mid 2010. Not surprisingly, this is a large opportunity. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the continuing spate of acquisitions in the green and intelligent building space. Last week, European giant Schneider Electric announced plans to acquire of Kentucky-based Summit Energy Services. With Schneider equipment ubiquitous in buildings, the acquisition of Summit Energy indicates a play to broaden its product offerings from purely technology and equipment to include services.

This is a smart move (albeit a bit late); it’s been apparent for some time that performance in buildings is not about technologies, it’s about services. Technologies certainly help to deliver desired services, but design and engineering play as much as, if not more of, a role as equipment.

Consistent with our Rites of Spring theme, this week’s Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to the NBA for its Green Week, an effort developed in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (Disclosure: NRDC senior scientist ... blah, blah ... 21 years ... blah, blah, blah).

All 30 NBA teams are engaging in green activities through April 10, and I will exercise my prerogative as GreenerBuildings.com executive editor to mention my Chicago Bulls’ (Derrick Rose, MVP!) activity promoting its “All-Star Green Team” of high school students who have been especially effective at motivating others to participate in environmental events. The NBA’s Green Week spotlights work to increase energy efficiency, waste management and recycling, and green office practices by the league and its teams.

Last year, I mentioned the Miami Heat’s new LEED certified American Airlines Arena (egregiously failing to mention the Atlanta Hawks’ Philips Arena, which received LEED certification the same day). Since then, the Houston Rockets’ Toyota Center received LEED EBOM Silver and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rose Garden has been LEED EBOM Gold Certified. Sounds like NRDC’s efforts to green basketball efforts are a slam dunk.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Glenn Loos-Austin.