Sustainable Conflict

Sustainable Conflict

U.S. Green Building Council’s certified wood vote ends Nov. 23, while debate over which certification is best intensifies

You’ve probably heard about it somewhere.  The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has for some time been considering revisions to rules that determine what wood products qualify as sustainably harvested.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification to date has been the only certification that qualifies a product for credit under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an important “green” building rating system.  The proposal, with voting to conclude Nov. 23, has long been anticipated as a document that would open the door for Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification and others.

“Okay, that’s nice,” you say. “But why do I care?” Because your understanding of these certifications — and the availability of products that have them — will affect choices you can make to protect the planet, and possibly, your pocketbook.

Despite current economic conditions, we are in the midst of a significant upswing in the use of “green” building products. This market was about $57 billion at the end of 2009, and is projected to reach $80 billion by 2013. For flooring alone, the National Wood Flooring Association has told its members to look for their sales of FSC-certified flooring to triple.

There are a number of other certifying organizations that would like to benefit from the positioning FSC has had as U.S. Green Building Council’s certification of choice. More visibility for more certifications means more competition and, often, better prices.  But the current proposal does not mean better protection of forests, argues an open letter issued by more than a dozen of the world’s largest environmental groups, urging a “no” vote on the USGBC proposal.

SFI – which was started by the U.S. timber industry but now stresses that it is an independent, non-profit group — has countered that global assessments recognize the merits of all credible forest-certification programs. These include SFI, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). They cite global support, including 12 U.S. governors and 88 members of Congress who have asked the USGBC to recognize all forest certification programs.

Early speculation about the USGBC proposal was that SFI would be pleased. Instead, SFI has joined FSC in opposing the USGBC’s proposed revisions.

Each side’s objection is telling. FSC says the proposal is too lax.  SFI says it’s too stringent.

We’ll break down the important technical points after the vote. Stay tuned.

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