LEED Refuses to Change Ratings While American Forests Are Devalued

While domestic wood products have long suffered due to the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) persistence in recognizing only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) products for certification, other departments and leaders are continually recognizing the value that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) holds for American forests.

The positive recognition has come on three domestic fronts, and all serve to benefit American timber. On the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s declaration that domestic wood was their preferred choice for future building projects, the Forest Service announced that additional building standards that recognize SFI would join the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, which only recognizes FSC products, as objects of promotion.

Meanwhile, in Maine, Governor Paul LePage issued an executive order stating “new state buildings must use only green building standards that give credits equally to SFI, FSC, American Tree Farm System and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification systems.”

Yet all of these victories for SFI, ripe with the common-sense benefits for American forestry, have not impeded the USGBC’s relentless desire to establish an FSC monopoly on forest certification in America.

This year’s initial language for LEED certification appears to be running in a direction polar opposite of what would benefit forest owners in America. In a move that kicks responsible forestry in America when it is already down, the language’s third draft went as far as saying only wood certified as “FSC or better” would be recognized by LEED.

Examination of the FSC itself further exposes the irrationality of LEED’s credit system. FSC’s varying regional standards offer no solace for forest owners. Though the worldwide share of Council land amounts to a mere 10 percent in America, there are still 13 different standards in North America alone, and nine of those are based in the United States.

What constitutes as meeting FSC standards in one region may not be recognized in another. Such issues stifle prospects of business growth, always amplify confusion and reduce incentives for those in the field to even bother with certification in the first place.

However, in the face of Americans’ clear preference for other standards and the FSC’s hemorrhaging flaws, the USGBC still refuses to recognize three-quarters of certified land, or 370 million acres, not certified by the FSC.

But the battle is far from over, and it is drawing increased attention as the costs of not including the SFI are becoming known. The issue is not one of partisanship but fairness and opportunity when it comes to American forestry.

In a recent letter to USGBC President Rick Fedirizzi, a bipartisan group led by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore) encouraged the Council to “accept all credible forest management certification systems for qualification under the LEED rating system.” The letter adds to the choir of over a hundred elected officials, 14 governors, and 87 members of Congress who have spoken out regarding the USGBC’s questionable practices of forest certification.

With SFI’s momentum mounting while cries for fairness grow, the USGBC must reconsider its LEED system of exclusion before American forests are further devalued, and the certification process spirals into irrelevancy.


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