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Certification Groups Fight LEED Exclusivity Policy

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is facing increasing pressure from numerous organizations and thousands of individuals following its decision to continue to recognize only one forestry certification program. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) is taking a leadership role and has been the most outspoken when it comes to raising awareness that the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system needs to recognize all credible forest certification programs, but they are certainly not alone as the list of allies and backers of the campaign continues to grow.

December 2, 2011  By Bill Tice editor

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is facing increasing pressure from numerous organizations and thousands of individuals following its decision to continu

The proponents of having the USGBC recognize multiple certifications have a strong case for their argument. Right now, LEED only recognizes the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification program. It’s fairly simple – if you don’t use FSC certified wood in your building project, you can still attain LEED certification for your building, but you can’t get the all important LEED forest certification point, something that is becoming increasingly essential to architects, builders and developers in today’s green-conscious world.  

By only recognizing a solo source of forest certification, the USGBC has effectively alienated and discriminated against other equally suitable, certifiable and credible certification programs. That’s what SFI and many others are so strongly opposed to. They simply want the USGBC to recognize all credible forest certification programs, and that includes FSC, SFI, American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

To date, SFI has well over 5,500 signatures on a petition (www.ipetitions.com/petition/leed) that calls for the USGBC to open LEED to all “wood and paper products certified to independent and credible standards.” They also have some powerful backers calling for the recognition of multiple forest certification standards, including the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) president Steven Koehn, Society of American Foresters president Michael Goergen, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Mother Nature Network director of environmental affairs Chuck Leavell, and numerous other political and business leaders, including the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. Can all of these highly respected individuals and organizations be wrong? If you want to see the support SFI president Kathy Abusow has for the rally against USGBC’s single certification policy, just go to the SFI website and check out Abusow’s blog and the related articles and comments – www.sfiprogram.org/leed/index.php. It’s impressive.

Like Abusow, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with FSC. In fact, in my opinion, it is a well-respected, globally recognized certification program, but so are all of the others that should and could be recognized by the USGBC. By taking FSC’s competitors for forest certification out of the equation, the USGBC could essentially create an artificial supply shortage of North American wood that can meet the LEED certification standard. This may force companies or organizations that want to attain the LEED standard to source FSC wood from outside of North America, and something the USGBC and FSC won’t readily tell you is that the FSC standards are different for different regions of the world, meaning that an FSC certified board from a forest in South America, Russia or Indonesia may not have to meet the same criteria to be labelled FSC certified as a board from British Columbia, Nova Scotia, or Oregon.


Here in North America, less than one quarter of this continent’s certified forests are FSC certified. The balance of North America’s certified forests are certified under the SFI, ATFS, or CSA programs. Sourcing forest products produced here in North America not only makes economic sense by creating employment and a positive business climate at home, but it also makes environmental sense. How much of a carbon footprint is left by shipping finished lumber products thousands of kilometres from Europe, Asia or South America compared to sourcing wood products from your own backyard, or in this case, your own province or state, or a neighbouring jurisdiction?

If the USGBC is truly interested in increasing the amount of certified wood used in green building projects, it needs to open the gate and let other certification programs in. It’s not like they would be doing something unprecedented or untested. Other highly respected green building programs around the world have done just that by recognizing numerous forest certification programs. Green Globes in Canada and the U.S., BREEAM in the United Kingdom, Built Green Canada, Built Green Colorado, CASBEE in Japan and the ANSI National Green Building Standard in the U.S., all recognize multiple forest certification programs.

At present, only 10% of the world’s forests are certified to any system. Increasing this number and producing forest products that are certified to rigorously controlled and credible standards is one of the most important things we can do to raise the profile and credibility of our industry and to protect the environment. Forest products companies and their customers along with industry associations, governments, environmental groups and organizations such as SFI, FSC, CSA, ATFS and PEFC have done a great job in making certification a much discussed topic around the boardroom tables of forest products producers and forest products purchasers. It all adds up to huge strides forward for the industry and the environment, but if the USGBC doesn’t change their policy of only recognizing one forest certification standard, they risk pushing certification in our industry a big step backwards, while at the same time, they also risk being perceived as laggards instead of leaders in promoting sustainable choices.


Bill Tice, Editor

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