To date, wood industry engagement with the US Green Building Council’s LEED program has tended to focus on its restriction of material credits for wood to FSC certified product only.
Inevitably this approach has upset advocates of alternative forest certification frameworks like SFI and PEFC that claim their standards are equivalent. This dispute is again at the center of wood industry dialogue surrounding the on-going USGBC process to update the LEED Standard. The “Responsible Extraction” credit for materials in the “3rd Public Comment Draft” of the new LEED 2012 Standard published earlier this month maintains this exclusive focus on FSC certification for wood.
However, from a broad wood industry perspective, the draft LEED standard raises much more important issues than the relative positioning of different forest certification brands. The FSC vs PEFC/SFI debate is a distraction from the more critical issue of relative competiveness of wood versus other materials.
On this last point, the new standard (at least for all LEED programs except LEED Homes) sends out both positive and negative signals. On the positive side, the standard would introduce quite a significant number of points for disclosure of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data through use of ISO-conformant Environmental Product Declarations. It would also reward buildings (for the first time under LEED) constructed of materials that actually demonstrate better performance over their full life cycle. This would mean due recognition for wood’s strong underlying environmental credentials compared to non-wood materials (e.g. renewability, carbon sequestration, low embodied energy, durability, ease of disposal).
Unfortunately, the FSC lobby in the US is resisting introduction of these genuinely progressive measures into LEED, presumably because it might allow material credits to be awarded for use of wood which is not FSC certified. Meanwhile the PEFC/SFI lobby has appeared less interested in defending the LCA credits than in continuing their campaign to ensure SFI/PEFC is given equal weight to FSC. Both sets of interests seem to be signaling that concern for brand recognition is a higher priority than leveling the playing field between wood and non-wood products.
Certainly, the proposed new LEED credit for "responsible extraction" is seriously at fault for not crediting the full range of certification systems that have evolved to demonstrate responsible performance at point of extraction in a complex and hugely diverse international industry. But what is much more worrying is that the new LEED standard would allocate points for a range of ridiculously weak frameworks for "responsible extraction" to concrete, minerals, metals and plastics - relying on unverified statements of corporate commitment to reduced environmental impact. This greenwash in other (non-renewable!) sectors would receive just as many points as FSC does for wood.
In short, the wood industry’s engagement with LEED to date leaves a lot to be desired. There is a need to look beyond narrow interests of certification brands and begin to co-operate more closely. Everyone with a stake in the wood industry, whether producers, traders or service providers including certifiers, have an interest in encouraging systems like LEED to reward proper accounting and disclosure of environmental impacts across the full life cycle. They also have an interest in ensuring that other material sectors are held equally to account for environmental impacts at point of extraction.