LEED Introduces Pilot Credit That May Be Trojan Horse For Clearcut Timber


Image Credit Franke James

I have called it the Rumble in the Lumberyard; Franke James calls it the War in the Woods. We thought the battle was over for now, with the USGBC decision last December to keep the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as the only wood that gets a point for being sustainably harvested. But now an extremely confusing and controversial new credit has been introduced that gets a foot in the door for other certification systems.
It first popped onto our radar in a press release from UL Environment, which does third party certification. They explain that the credit is designed to promote use of certified products.

To achieve the new pilot credit, LEED projects must demonstrate that, based on value, at least 10 percent of non-structural products meet one of the following requirements:

  • have environmental claims verified by a third party;

  • are certified to third-party multi-attribute performance standards; or

  • are accompanied by a life cycle assessment report or a third-party verified Environmental Product Declaration.

The President of UL Environment, Steve Wenc, (who I have interviewed, coming soon) says "This move toward increased performance, transparency, authenticity and third-party verification of manufacturers' claims will help transform the market."

But Jason Grant of the Sierra Club Forest Certification Team, worries that other wood certification systems now are eligible for points, simply because they have environmental claims verified by a third party. He writes:

Note that fully 30 standards are pre-approved in this pilot credit - not including all five forest certification systems..... Perhaps they should dispense with the Standard for Standards and go with the Krusty Brand Seal of Approval instead, with that catchy slogan: "It's not just good - it's good enough!"

He notes that all kinds of evil materials, like vinyl, now actually get points, simply because they have had claims certified by a third party. " Again, no minimum performance threshold is required. Tell us how much dioxin you are producing, and congratulations! You've earned a point!"

Whenever I am confused about such issues, I run over to BuildingGreen, where Nadav Malin writes that this credit has to do with product transparency, not performance.

Existing LEED credits, most famously the certified wood credit, have focused on the environmental attributes behind certifications, leading USGBC and its members and stakeholders to choose favored programs, notably the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In contrast, "This credit is about identifying certification types, nothing about our preferences about them," Whit Faulconer, director of LEED, explained to EBN, noting that as long as the information is public or certified even products with poor environmental footprints can qualify.

But don't tell that to the lumber industry, which is jumping for joy. The National Wood Flooring Association writes on their website:

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) will allow non-FSC-certified wood products to qualify for a pilot LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credit.....Whether non-FSC certified wood products can earn LEED credits has long been a bone of contention. This latest development is a reversal of fortune for groups striving to have wood certifications besides FSC recognized under LEED.

Meanwhile, Jason Grant followed up with another note, an attempt to " provide constructive criticism instead of freaking out." He concludes"

The current Certified Products credit is a step in the wrong direction. It inexplicably reduces forest certification to "single attribute certification" and dilutes it relative to other performance standards and EPDs. It makes FSC equivalent to industry-based forest certification systems with demonstrably lower standards. Given the history of the certified wood credit revision, this is indefensible, even in a pilot credit. The camel's nose is now under the tent, and no amount of hand-waving on the part of USGBC can disguise or negate this fact.

I have never heard the camel's nose metaphor before, but it is definitely a Trojan horse.

More on the Wood Wars

The Best Ever Explanation Of Why You Should Buy FSC Wood: Who Cares About The Forest?
Rumble In The Lumberyard: FSC Wins This Round
Rumble in the Lumberyard: FSC vs SFI

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