Clamor Grows for Change in USGBC Wood Policy

Clamor Grows for Change in USGBC Wood Policy

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative says it has gathered more than 5,000 signatures for its online petition calling for the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize wood products bearing certification from a variety of groups, including the SFI.

The USGBC'S Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating and assessment system, known as LEED, currently recognizes only wood products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The USGBC is in the process of deciding what changes should be made on the issue.

When LEED standards were first developed more than a decade ago, the Forest Stewardship Council's certification process was deemed the most mature system available. LEED's exclusive recognition of that standard for wood products has fueled controversy among rival certification systems almost from the start. In the intervening years, groups such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative honed their standards and other certification offerings emerged.

Signatories of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative's petition urge the USGBC to recognize "all credible forest certification standards," including those of the SFI, the American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification as well as the Forest Stewardship Council. As of late today, the SFI petition had garnered more than 5,180 signatures, the group said on its website.

Recognizing other forestry certification systems, however, is not a matter of merely declaring them acceptable.

The USGBC must first decide whether and how to redefine its benchmark in LEED for certified wood products, seek public comment on any proposed change, then put the proposal to a vote of USGBC members, said Brendan Owens, the USGBC's vice president for LEED Technical Development. In that way, certification systems that meet the new definition for the benchmark would be recognized.

The USGBC recently completed its third round of public comment about proposed changes affecting certified wood products that are eligible for Materials & Resources credits in the LEED system. The council received and responded to more than 4,000 comments in the solicitation for feedback that concluded in March, Owens said. The organization is now deciding whether to seek a fourth round of comment or put the current iteration of the redefined benchmark to a vote of the USGBC's 18,000 members.

While the organization expects to make that decision relatively soon, the dispute about forest certification systems isn't likely to be quelled by it.

The Forest Stewardship Council also takes issue with the USGBC. During the public comment session, the FSC said it supports a strong benchmark for forestry products and that USGBC proposal under discussion doesn't go far enough, and in some cases gives up ground. On its website, the FSC, which has cautioned that all certification systems are not created equal, said various systems are "far apart ... in standards rigor and system governance."

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