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Hayes Comments on Certified Wood Standards

Denis Hayes, the original Earth Day coordinator and International Chair of Earth Day 2010, recently argued that the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program should not accept forest management standards developed by the Sustainable Forest Initiative, which was launched by a timber industry trade group, because its standards are not as strong as those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

FSC is an international, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. It provides standard-setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies and organizations interested in responsible forestry. Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified.

In a Seattle Times opinion, Hayes cautioned the USGBC not to let its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program be “diluted.”

“If the U.S. Green Building Council yields to timber industry demands to include the weaker SFI standards for forest products…LEED certification would lose much of the green cachet it currently enjoys; FSC would suffer a serious blow; and our forests would be the losers,” Hayes wrote.

Hayes also took on two points cited by the SFI community – namely, that using FSC favors foreign timber producers over domestic suppliers and that it harms small family forest owners – calling such statements “at variance with the truth.”

According to FSC, the LEED rating system has rewarded responsible forest management through its MRc7 Certified Wood credit for 10 years, awarding one point per building project for the use of FSC-certified wood. LEED demand has been a principal driver in bringing more than 116 million acres of U.S. and Canadian forestland into compliance with FSC standards.

But as the market for green building and LEED has expanded exponentially, conventional timber companies have aggressively lobbied USGBC to recognize their practices in LEED. In response, the council is developing an independent benchmark to define “exemplary forestry,” with the intention of setting objective requirements so that any forest certification system could choose to meet those requirements and thus be recognized in LEED. In February, the council issued a third draft of its benchmark for comment; a final version is anticipated in the coming months.

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