The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) issued for comment Aug. 8 a proposal that in effect would end the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) monopoly as the only certification system whose wood qualifies for points under the LEED green construction system.

The action starts a process that could end one of the biggest complaints dealers have about LEED: That it doesn't give points for wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or similar groups that tend to be much more supported by the timber industry. However, the change is unlikely to bring about the end of some other stomach-churning issues related to green construction--in particular, the need to get chain of custody certification.

USGBC will take comments on the proposal until Sept. 8. USGBC's Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group then will review the comments and decide whether to put the changes up for a vote by the entire USGBC membership. All LEED programs would be affected by the vote. If the proposal is approved, certification schemes seeking to be recognized by USGBC then would have to have their programs reviewed and approved. All that could take until the middle of next year.

According to an executive summary of the proposal, the proposed new language would make non-FSC certification systems eligible to earn points under LEED provided they meet measurable benchmarks in four areas: governance; technical standards/substance; accreditation and auditing; and chain of custody and labeling.

"The proposed evolution of the certified wood credit in LEED will help focus the forest certification conversation on outcomes and performance," Brendan Owens, USGBC's vice president of LEED technical development, said in a statement.

While groups such as SFI have argued that their standards are at least as good--if not better--than FSC's in many levels, the proposed benchmarks reflect USGBC's preference for certification systems that follow the spirit if not the letter of FSC's rules. For instance, according to a not-for-circulation draft made available to ProSales by SFI, the benchmarks state:

  • timber interests can't make up more than one-third of the certification group's board;

  • use of genetically modified organisms would be banned;

  • natural methods of pest control are preferred over chemicals; and

  • certification systems must "promote the long-term health and well-being of communities within or adjacent to the forest management area."

Lumber interests have complained about the FSC monopoly under LEED since the first standards were issued. Lumberyard groups have complained particularly about how the standard was unfair and unworkable because it was so hard to get FSC-certified wood--a result of many major timber companies' refusal to abide by FSC standards and instead promote other standards, particularly SFI. USGBC has formally been reviewing this issue for more than two years.
"SFI Inc. is pleased to see this next step in the evolution of the LEED program," an SFI spokesperson said. " It reflects the reality, that even with over 50 forest certification programs worldwide, there are still only 10 percent of the world's forests certified to any program."

Craig Webb is editor of ProSales magazine.