US Green Building Council Needs to Maintain the Gold Standard in Forest Certification

In April 2016 the US Green Building Council (USGBC) announced a new pilot credit that rewards the use of wood certified under the timber industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Previously LEED had only recognized wood certified according to the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a forest certification system that is the gold standard and something that Dogwood Alliance has committed to in a big way. The new pilot credit is a problem because FSC is the most credible forest certification system in existence and SFI simply does not compare.

The USGBC decision was as a surprise to environmental groups who are in support of FSC, and opposed to SFI. Among other concerns, SFI certifies vast clearcuts, allows biodiverse forests to be turned into barren single-species plantations, accepts logging that harms water quality and jeopardizes already imperiled fish and wildlife, and has many deficiencies when it comes to indigenous concerns.

A clearcut in Washington State performed on forest lands certified by SFI. Photo Courtesy of Washington Forest Law Center
A clearcut in Washington State performed on forest lands
certified by SFI.
Photo Courtesy of Washington Forest Law Center

USGBC suggests that the purpose of the pilot (which USGBC calls an Alternative Compliance Path) is to test the feasibility of a new LEED requirement for evidence that wood was legally harvested. This should be easy to support. However, what it looks like to leading environmental groups in the US and Canada, who submitted a letters to USGBC opposing the pilot program, is that this pilot credit is simply a concession to the largest logging companies in North America.

The pilot credit isn’t yet a permanent part of LEED and unless it is revised so that it no longer recognizes SFI, it should never become one. This issue is important: LEED is the most credible and widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED has played a key role driving responsible practices in the forest products industry. This new pilot credit could undermine years of progress aligning environmental protection with the building industry.

This is no time for USGBC to abandon its legacy of collaboration, transparency, and leadership. It needs to resist the pressure from the logging industry and maintain its commitment to responsible forest management.

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