LACN convention draws green advocates

Outside the hotel, protestors held signs declaring, “Protesting Forests is Everyone’s Business.” Inside the hotel, lumber-yard owners listened to presentations on certified wood, solar panels and water-saving devices. So went the annual meeting of the Lumber Association of California and Nevada, held Nov. 1 to 3 at the Portola Plaza Hotel in Monterey, Calif.

The protest was organized by ForestEthics, a group that has targeted Sierra Pacific Industries, a lumber supplier in Redding, Calif., for its clear-cutting logging practices. A member of LACN, Sierra Pacific representatives were in attendance at the conference. A Sierra Pacific spokesperson told HCN that the environmental group has mischaracterized the company, which operates under sustainable forestry practices. “The state approves all of our timber harvesting,” the spokesperson said.

Green building kept surfacing throughout the three-day event, which was kicked off by Mark LaLiberte, a building industry consultant who frequently speaks on the topic of environmentally responsible homes.

“Green houses don’t have to be a yurt in the middle of nowhere,” LaLiberte told the assembled dealers. He outlined the many paths toward sustainability, from installing duct-work in hallway ceilings instead of overheated attics to $50 sensors that turn off lawn sprinklers whenever it rains.

In many instances, green building can be accomplished by simply employing best practices like pan flashing around windows and drainage behind exterior cladding, LaLiberte explained. But each product must work within a whole systems approach, he warned. In today’s airtight homes, for example, big house fans can cause problems by sucking unhealthy air out of the garage, where gasoline and garden chemicals are typically stored.

Dealers need to educate themselves on new products and installation methods so they can share this expertise with their customer base. “You might be a leader by showing a builder a product he didn’t know was possible,” LaLiberte said.

Becoming familiar with the green industry’s offerings also makes good business sense. “People don’t want to buy anything from someone who knows less than they do,” he observed.

One of the most controversial topics in the green building industry—the different ratings systems for certified wood—also came up for discussion at the LACN event. Kelly McCloskey of the Wood Promotion Network addressed the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) versus Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) issue during his presentation on a new initiative to increase the use of wood in non-residential markets.

Although wood shell construction is permitted for commercial buildings of four stories or less in California, “there’s a real tendency by the building communities to default away from wood, regardless of what the codes will allow,” McCloskey said. The new campaign, which is being launched in California, Georgia and the Carolinas, will try to persuade architects and builders to substitute wood products for concrete or steel in schools, libraries, firehouses, community centers and other non-residential buildings.

However, many of these buildings must be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council, which gives points for lumber only when it’s FSC-certified. Many dealers in the industry believe that all lumber should be considered a renewable resource and that other certification systems, such as SFI, should have equal footing with FSC.

McCloskey agreed. “Give the markets some options,” he said, urging dealers to lobby their legislators not to codify one set of green building standards over the other. Currently, 12 state legislatures have chosen LEED as the only acceptable standards for their green incentive programs, according to McCloskey.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation last month that would have mandated LEED standards (or their equivalent) in state buildings. The LACN and other representatives of the wood products industry had opposed the bills, saying they went too far in their effort to promote sustainable building practices.