For Sustainable Wood, a New and Unloved Standard

Posted by Rumin Mann
October 29th, 2010

Next week select members of the United States Green Building Council will begin casting ballots on whether to overhaul how the organization awards sustainability credits for wood products.

If adopted, the standards would fundamentally alter the organization’s approach to rating forestry products. At present, only wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council qualifies for so-called LEED credits, which are used to certify a building as environmentally sustainable and assign it a rating.

The new standards would open up LEED certification, an increasingly popular benchmark for responsible construction, to any timber certification system that meets a series of sustainability benchmarks.

The proposed standards have undergone multiple rounds of revision and public comment. In the process they have been harshly criticized both by environmental groups, which call them a step backward for sustainability, and by representatives of large corporate forestry interests, which have pushed to have the LEED standards substantially relaxed.

To Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at the Green Building Council, the fact that the new standards are being attacked from all sides could signal that it has hit upon a winning formula.

“Nobody likes these changes, which might mean that we’re in a fairly accurate place to be,” Mr. Horst said.

Kathy Abusow, president of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which represents some of the country’s largest timber producers and has a less rigorous standard for assessing sustainability than that currently recognized by LEED, said her group was far from pleased with the new benchmarks.

“Man, this is a complicated process,” Ms. Abusow said. “There’s just way too many hoops to jump through for just one credit.”

Whether or not the new standards are passed, she said, her group will probably abandon its attempt to gain LEED certification for its membership’s products. “We’re going to put more energy into rating tools that do recognize our forest certification programs,” Ms. Abusow said. “I think we’ve got to move away from this one credit.”

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