Statement on USGBC's Draft Forest Certification Benchmarks

Has USGBC Missed The Point?

SFI Statement on USGBC’s Draft Forest Certification Benchmarks, September 30


The US Green Building Council’s recently released draft forest certification benchmarks are not the game changer for sustainability that many proponents had in mind.  The benchmarks miss the point; in fact they miss several points and therefore several opportunities for the growing green building marketplace to recognize wood products from third-party-certified, well-managed forests.

Points missed:

  • Wood is a sound environmental choice.  Healthy, well-managed, certified forests are part of the solution for climate change, for communities, for our social, environmental and economic health and well-being…and yes, for USGBC green buildings.
  • Only 10% of the world’s forests are certified. Opening the door to all credible forest certification programs means more choices for architects and more incentives to use wood instead of materials that are non-renewable and may leave a larger carbon footprint.
  • Recognizing more certification programs promotes more forest certification. The USGBC has lost the opportunity to provide leadership in supporting responsible forest management on a global scale and is now falling behind other green building programs which support multiple forest certification programs.
  • A bureaucratic maze for wood; a free ride for steel and concrete. Under the certified wood credit scenarios, a forest certification program needs to clear at least 60 hurdles (benchmarks) and supply 100% certified product in order to get one point for LEED. If they clear more hurdles the amount of certified product can decrease. Steel and concrete need to do none of this and get more points!

“With only 10 per cent of the world’s forests certified, the USGBC has missed the chance of a lifetime to forever end the certification debates and encourage more forest certification worldwide by focusing on sustainability, not on minute differences between certification programs,” said SFI President and CEO Kathy Abusow.  “Instead the new draft benchmarks currently out for review have little do with forest management and include criteria that the USGBC itself does not meet, and certainly criteria that steel, concrete and competing products don’t even have to attempt to meet.”

SFI Inc. encourages all certification programs and supporters of forest certification worldwide to comment on the draft benchmarks and to urge the USGBC, its board, its steering committee and its material and resources technical advisory group to recognize all credible forest certification programs including SFI, FSC, ATFS, CSA and PEFC.

Consider these facts:

*Only 10% of the world’s forests are certified to more than 50 different standards, each with regional differences – 90% of the world’s forests remain uncertified. The USGBC should be focussed on the uncertified fiber not on who is the best of the best.

*A double standard. The USGBC does not require other building products to have third-party environmental certification.  Yet wood third-party certified to internationally recognized standards like SFI have to clear a minimum of 60 points just to be considered for a single LEED point, while a bicycle rack and shower can also qualify for a single LEED point.

*The draft benchmarks are inherently biased against North American forests. Is an FSC 2×4 from Indonesia really better than a SFI 2×4 from Tennessee or British Columbia?  With only 18% of North America’s certified forests certified to FSC, this means that LEED-rated buildings may be giving preference to products from offshore, often shipped incredible distances, and yet wood from the USGBC’s backyard and certified to SFI might not qualify if the current benchmarks stick.

*Strong Regulations and Forest Certification. Independent reports show that North America is a world leader in responsible forest management, and has strong regulatory frameworks which in fact contribute to the overall strictness of the standard more than it does the type of standard.

*The trend is inclusivity. Solving this issue seems to be a mystery for USGBC but it really isn’t that complicated.  There are numerous precedents that demonstrate that the global trend in green building is to recognize wood and further recognize all third-party forest certification standards.  For example, Green Globes (US and Canada), BREEAM (United Kingdom), Built Green Canada, Built Green Colorado, CASBEE (Japan) and the ANSI National Green Building Standard (US) all recognize multiple forest certification standards including SFI.

*The UN says green building is a mixed blessing for forest certification. The UNECE/FAO’s Forest Products Annual Market Review reports that green building may be a mixed blessing for certification stating that, “green building initiatives standards giving exclusive recognition to particular forest-certification brands may help drive demand for these brands at the expense of wider appreciation of the environmental merits of wood.”  The UNECE/FAO is also concerned that the growth of certification worldwide appears to be slowing.

“The USGBC is falling behind other green building programs that use forest certification as a tool to source and build responsibly – unlike USGBC, they give builders, architects and others choice,” said Abusow.  “It’s not too late for the USGBC to seek a way forward that provides leadership on the issue of sustainability and uses forest certification as a driver to support responsible forestry and as an example for other building products to follow.”

For information on how you can make a difference during the USGBC comment period, contact Jason Metnick.