U.S. body's green choice has split environmentalists

Posted by Rumin Mann
March 31st, 2010

A powerful body in Washington, D.C., is about to make a decision about green labelling that will have sweeping impacts for Canadian wood producers and for those who have spent years working to define the best practices for environmentally approved forestry.

Only 23 per cent of Canada’s “green” forest is FSC-certified.

Much more Canadian timber could be hammered into environmentally friendly buildings throughout North America if the U.S. Green Building Council approves newly drafted rules governing which wood products are accepted into its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building programs, known as LEED.

Three out of every four certified trees in Canada are currently locked out of North America’s booming green building market because the LEED program only accepts wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Only 23 per cent of Canada’s “green” forest is FSC-certified.

LEED is about to unlock that market.

The building council has drafted new rules that, if approved by a vote of its membership, will enable any forest certifier to access the LEED system – provided the certifier fulfills certain requirements.
As a result, the two leading forest certification systems are now locked in a life-or-death struggle over the specific wording of those highly technical requirements.

The Forest Stewardship Council and its allies in the environmental community claim the proposed standards would loosen the rules enough to allow status-quo forestry to be called “green,” and decimate the sapling marketplace for wood produced under ecologically sensitive conditions.  “There are big stakes here, and the repercussions will spread across the forest products industry for years,” said Corey Brinkema, president of the American branch of the multi-national stewardship council.  “If the current draft is passed without modification, it is possible that barely-legal forestry would be green-washed by industry and accepted into the LEED program,” Brinkema said.

The stewardship council’s rival, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, retorts that the new rules would not loosen LEED enough. The industry-backed initiative warns the stewardship council’s de facto monopoly within LEED requires North American builders to use council wood from countries such as Russia or Sweden at the expense of U.S.- or Canadian-grown timber.  “This position should not be taken lightly,” said Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based initiative.  Abusow claimed that part of the stewardship council’s wood supply comes from overseas “and often from countries without effective social laws,” she said in a prepared statement.

The Forest Stewardship Council was founded in Toronto in the fall of 1993 with three goals: drafting rules to define how environmentally friendly wood should be grown and cut, hiring auditors to verify that the rules are followed, and creating a consumer label to certify the resulting wood products.  But consumers don’t buy much wood. The lion’s share of lumber is bought by builders, who tend to choose low price over low impact.

Enter the U.S. Green Building Council, which works to promote environmental sustainability through its LEED standards.  The standards rate how buildings are designed, built and operated. When they were first drafted in the 1990s, the building council borrowed heavily from the work of the like-minded Forest Stewardship Council.  As a result, stewardship council-certified wood is the only wood recognized under the LEED system, causing a de facto monopoly that is credited with expanding the market for council-certified wood products.

While green building represented just two per cent of the construction market in 2005, it is projected to grow to a quarter of all commercial and institutional building starts and 20 per cent of the value of residential starts by 2013.  That adds up to a U.S. green building sector soon be worth more than $80 billion a year. Read More

Comments are closed.