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LEED Wood Credit up for Review….Again

March 9, 2010

By Joann Gonchar, AIA, and Alanna Malone

Almost since its inclusion in LEED in 2001, the materials and resources credit pertaining to certified wood products has been controversial. The credit recognizes only wood products that meet the standards of one organization—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). But last week, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) moved a step closer to adopting new credit language that, at least in theory, could open up the rating system to other wood-certification schemes.

The revamped credit, available for review and comment at usgbc.org, is the third set of revisions released since 2008. At the heart of the proposed changes is the elimination of a specific mention of FSC. Instead, the credit outlines a “forest certification benchmark”—criteria against which any certification system could be evaluated. The benchmark has evolved since the first draft, with the latest version including a new prerequisite relating to the use of genetically modified organisms, and revised provisions regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and the governance structure of the certification organizations.

Groups that might benefit weren’t satisfied with previous versions, and they still aren’t placated. Kathy Abusow, president of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a chief competitor to FSC, worries that the proposed language still could exclude her organization and other forest certifiers, depending on how the assessments of certification systems are conducted. During the September 2009 comment period for the previous draft, the USGBC released 80 criteria. The SFI commented on almost all of the criteria, but only five were modified in the latest version, Abusow points out. “The vast majority of our comments just weren’t addressed,” she says. “It’s a great disappointment [that we] haven’t been taken seriously.” The SFI is especially concerned about several elements of the benchmark that it says put North American growers at a disadvantage.

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Officials from FSC also are unhappy. They are “deeply troubled by changes that have been made since the second draft, which itself was a significant reduction to the standards for certified wood set by the USGBC and LEED 10 years ago,” according to a statement on the organization’s Web site. The group criticizes several aspects of the new draft; it doesn’t adequately describe how certification schemes will be measured against the benchmark, they say, and it doesn’t provide enough protection for indigenous people.

The current review period closes on March 14. Afterwards a USGBC committee will evaluate all comments, and decide if the overhaul requires another round of revision and review. If the group makes no further technical changes, the council could ask members to vote on the credit as early as mid-April, according to Ashley Katz, a USGBC spokesperson.

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