Comments sought on LEED wood certification

The U.S. Green Building Council is re-evaluating the way it awards LEED credits for certified wood, opening the door to one of the industry’s most controversial issues. The non-profit organization has begun a 30-day public comment period, which started Aug. 8, to gather input on a proposal that could include more LBM dealers in green building projects.

Comments are being solicited through the group’s Website, www.usgbc.org, until Sept. 7.

Up until this point, LEED has only recognized wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This excludes a number of other certifying bodies, including Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Canadian Standards Association, the American Tree Farm System, and the Canadian PEFC standards.

The U.S. Green Building Council said it has been studying the issue for two years “with input from a widely diverse set of stakeholders” and internationally recognized forestry experts. Under a proposal now being considered, current and future wood certification programs would be measured against a set of benchmarks to determine if they qualify for credit under LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“It was clear from our extensive research that the increasing internationalization of the wood supply chain, the changing ownership structure of American forests and the increasing diversity of wood certification programs globally demanded a more holistic, transparent approach,” said Brendan Owens, vp-LEED technical development, in the U.S. Green Building Council announcement.

One group of vocal stakeholders has been lumberyard owners, who object to the expense of FSC-certification, the difficulty of sourcing FSC-certified wood, and what they consider to be onerous chain-of-custody requirements. Pro dealers also say they’ve been precluded from bidding on many municipal, state and commercial jobs because they lacked FSC certification.

Some of these dealers voiced their concerns in Kansas City, Mo., on July 17, when the LBM Institute, the educational and research arm of the NLBMDA, held a public forum to gather input on the idea of a new “ecostamp” for dimensional lumber. Lumberyard owners made it clear that they objected to having just one certification program for wood.

FSC supporters feel just as strongly about the need for robust forest management standards. Environmentalists who support the FSC standards were able to derail a provision in California’s new green building codes that would have opened wood certification to several other programs. In order to get the building codes adopted, California officials deleted the certified wood requirement in the 11th hour, saying they would come back to it at a later date.