Why USGBC Should Recognize SFI – “No Certification Program Can Credibly Claim to be ‘Best’ “

C. Randall (Randy) Dye
National Association of State Foresters

The U.S. Green Building Council is inviting comments on the draft language for its LEED rating system. SFI Inc. has invited views on the treatment of third-party forest certification, which must be “FSC or better” according to the latest USGBC credit language. In this post, Randy Dye, West Virginia State Forester and President of the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), talks about NASF’s position on third-party forest certification and green building.

State Foresters have long been advocates of policies encouraging the use of domestic wood products for green building – from both economic and environmental perspectives. State foresters have a unique public trust responsibility for America’s forests, and we have been active leaders in the growth and evolution of third-party forest certification as an important tool that is making a positive contribution in our public and private forests.

We welcomed a report last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that wood is superior to other construction materials in terms of environmental benefits, and applauded USDA’s statement that “Sustainability of forest products can be verified using any credible third-party rating system, such as Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council or American Tree Farm System.” We still see a need for change in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) treatment of both wood and forest certification in the draft language for LEED.

In 2008, the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) passed a green building resolution, pointing to the importance of giving wood products, especially from the United States, a substantial role in the U.S. green building movement. The resolution urged organizations that maintain green building standards to “recognize the value of U.S. wood that is certified by a credible forestland certification standard as having been grown in a sustainable manner, keeping in mind that there are multiple certification standards and systems that are credible and nationally recognized, and that the diversity of U.S. forestlands requires the use of multiple forestland certification standards and systems…”

NASF members also approved a forest certification policy statement in 2008 setting out the fundamental elements of forest certification: independent governance, multi-stakeholder standard, independent certification, complaints/appeals process, open participation and transparency. This policy statement found that all of the major certification programs used in the United States – the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – include these elements and make positive contributions to forest sustainability.

Further, it stated: “No certification program can credibly claim to be ‘best’, and no certification program that promotes itself as the only certification option can maintain credibility. Forest ecosystems are complex and a simplistic ‘one size fits all’ approach to certification cannot address all sustainability needs.”

The policy statement specifically recognized the value of forest certification programs that originated in the U.S., such as SFI and ATFS, noting that “each developed workable requirements for addressing sustainable forestry across all ownerships. Training requirements for on-the-ground personnel (loggers, landowners, and foresters), wood procurement standards, and group landowner certification have broadened participation and made forest certification more meaningful in the U.S.”

So it is disturbing that the USGBC would continue to pick one certification program at the expense of others that were developed with U.S. forests and communities in mind. And it is further troubling that now they are requiring SFI and ATFS to prove that they are “better” than FSC in order to be recognized within LEED.

In 2010, we sent a letter to the USGBC urging it to incorporate changes in the LEED language to promote wood and expand the practice of forest certification. Our concerns were ignored, and yet the need for this is even greater today. We have identified the loss of markets for U.S. wood products as a major concern for our forest industry and economy, and we would like to see an increase in our country’s share of global wood value production through the utilization of sustainable forest practices.

USGBC should encourage the use of wood and advance certification by recognizing that SFI, FSC and ATFS all require rigorous documentation to prove that forestry practices are sustainable – and by awarding credits for products certified to all of these standards. This will lead to benefits not only for the environment and our forests, but for communities and workers across the U.S.