Is LEED Breaking Up with FSC-Certified Wood?
Photo from Coastal Treated Products Company
After a long-lasting and loving monogamous relationship between the US Green Building Council and the Forest Stewardship Council, it seems the USGBC is considering, not a break up, but definitely thinking about seeing other sustainable woods. FSC-Certified wood has been the yardstick to which the LEED rating system has awarded points for its Certified Wood credits for nearly ten years. The USGBC/FSC relationship has been so tight, that the forest-focused organization is one of the only product-labeling criteria mentioned anywhere in the wildly popular rating system. But things change...people change...sustainable markets change...and well, you know, criterion change, so in classic USGBC fashion, they put the change out for public comment. Nothing Stays the Same
The modification is in the way the credits determine what sustainable wood is. Up until now, credits such as MR 7 - Certified Wood, has awarded points based on the usage of FSC Certified Wood. Basically, if you used a minimum of 50% of the wood-based materials and products (based on cost) was FSC-Certified, then you could get one point for sustainable wood use. And if you really wanted to go above and beyond, you could get 2 points if the project used 95% or more certified wood. The catch has always been that it has to be certified in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Council's Principles and Criteria.
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Back in the Day
When MR 7 was first launched in LEED v2.0 in 2001, solely using FSC standards made lots of sense. Today, the sustainable wood market has developed to include many rival certifications for sustainably forested and harvested wood. The aim of proposal out of public comment is to recognize the dramatic developments within sustainable wood industry. And so, the proposal is to change the language within the rating system to allow other forest certifications to be eligible for LEED points. If approved by member ballot, wood could earn points after it has shown that it meets Benchmark requirements. There are four separate areas within the Benchmark: Governance, Standards Substance, Chain of Custody & Labeling and Accreditation & Certification Process.
When v2.0 was evolving into v2.1, the Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group (MR TAG) suggested similar changes. Back then, after a public comments period, there was overwhelming support to NOT revise the credits, so the proposal was set aside. This time, the MR TAG started to engage stakeholders regarding the potential revisions in 2006. In 2007, the USGBC engaged the Yale Program on Forest Policy and Governance (YPFPG) along with Life Cycle Assessment experts at Sylvatica to support the MR TAG in researching the issue surrounding certified woods. In 2008, YPFPG issued a report assessing the policy options the USGBC have in awarding points for the use of forest certification and wood materials. The folks at Yale found that the FSC-only approach had been criticized by key stakeholders for "at least six reasons". The six reasons range from there is no clearly identified rationale for the "FSC only" policy to the current supply of FSC wood is limited making it difficult to earn certified wood credits.
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Scot Horst, Senior Vice President of LEED, stated in a letter that the question that needs to be asked is how can green building standards create greater sustainability in the wood industry and how does the USGBC create greater market demand for sustainably harvested lumber with which we can build our buildings.
This issue is really about land use as well as all the complexities of encouraging healthy forests and people. Through the use of these credits, LEED users are attempting to transform the way we use wood as a resource and the forests that wood comes from. Land use policy and the impacts that occur when we harvest natural resources are among the most challenging issues we face as a species, greatly impacting human health, ecosystem health and economic well-being. Land use is a key issue in how we extract, manufacture and use resources that build our buildings and the things we surround ourselves with. Unfortunately, these issues are among the most complex to measure. They are in fact as complex as any natural system.