Forest Product Certification Sparks Debate in LEED 2012
(04/19/2012)

As it revises LEED standards in 2012, the U.S. Green Building Council is considering amendments to forest product certification, a subject that has sparked debate among members of the forestry industry and other stakeholders.

The rating system awards points for using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified products, or wood products grown and harvested in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, as well as for innovation in design, construction, operations and maintenance of a building project. This category is part of the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance system.

In its draft of its 2012 update to LEED, the council stated that it would award points to products that are “FSC or better” — language that has caused a stir among groups with their own certification systems and companies that produce forest products.

The fourth public comment period will open May 1, according to Ashley Katz, spokesperson for the council.

The “FSC or better” language was adopted following a 2008 report by the Yale Program on Forest Policy and Governance, which stated that the suite of forest certification programs of greatest relevance to the U.S. account for more than 99 percent of wood by volume used in construction.

The systems, each of which stems from varying groups in the forestry industry, have traditionally caused environmental and industry groups to debate the relative merits of each forest certification scheme.

Critics of the “FSC or better” policy challenge the lack of a clearly identified rationale for the standard. They note the similarities among the major forest certification programs worldwide, a limited supply of FSC wood that makes earning credits difficult, and the policy as an unrealistic binary choice with destructive practices at one end and exemplary “eco-forestry” at the other.

Additional criticisms, according to Yale’s report, include a lack of consistent controls on the use of non-certified wood, as well as a lack of consistency between policies for wood use and those for other materials.

Varying Certification Systems

The most common certification systems include the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) system, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). In addition, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification has developed an umbrella endorsement system that internationally recognizes national certification schemes in countries around the world.

The multiple systems began after most industrial forestry companies rejected certification under the FSC, according to Yale’s report.

The SFI, which emerged from the American Forest and Paper Association, set out broad principles of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) that it required all its members to support.

In Canada, where most forestlands are publicly owned, industry interests joined forces in 1993 with government and other stakeholders to develop an FSC alternative under Canada’s national standards body, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which became the CSA Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) certification system.

In the U.S., non-industrial forest owners launched the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), which developed its first certification standard in 1941.

The ATFS has not historically fit the definition of forest certification as a “market-based” system with environmental labels and third-party enforcement mechanisms. It instead engages volunteer foresters in helping family tree farm owners learn about and practice sustainable forestry.

More recently, however, the ATFS has been working to establish itself as an internationally recognized system on par with the FSC, SFI and others.

The different interest groups have contrasting views about both forest management and the appropriate structure and role of forest certification. FSC supporters were pushing for more prescriptive performance standards that focus on lower intensity, ecosystem-driven management, while SFI and CSA supporters were promoting more flexible approaches that gave forest owners greater discretion in their management choices. ATFS was concerned with outreach to non-industrial forest owners.

In addition, the certification processes vary for each system. FSC certification involves third-party audits of forest management and the green labeling of forest products that are systematically tracked from certified forest operations to their final point of sale.

SFI, in contrast, began with industry self-auditing before developing a third-party auditing option, and ATFS, CSA and SFI initially did not carry a forest products label.

Over the last decade, according to the report, competition among the systems has forced each to adapt to the demands of competing interests.

“The FSC has become more responsive to market economics and the other systems are more responsive to non-producer concerns,” the report states. “The current result of this competition, is that FSC, SFI and CSA have all made inroads into mainstream wood markets, and the ATFS has been developing a certification option for non-industrial producers.”

All systems have developed the ability to provide certified wood for building if there is significant market demand, according to the report.

Another ongoing debate is over whether the category of “rapidly renewable” resources should be changed to “renewable” resources to award credits to wood and other longer rotation crops, according to the report.

Due to a lack of information, the U.S. Green Building Council is unable to choose a forest certification scheme based solely on its impacts, according to the report.

“The ultimate measure of effectiveness for any forest certification scheme is its on-the-ground impact on forest health and related socio-economic benefits,” the report states. “It is very challenging, however, to separate the environmental and socio-economic effects of forest certification from other local to landscape-level variables that also impact forests.”

Contrasting Views

Laura Thompson, director of technical marketing and sustainable development for Sappi Fine Paper, a producer of wood-free paper used in publications, said the requirement was a “sloppy reference in a standard.”

In a March 20 post for SFI’s Good for Forests blog, Thompson wrote the company has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards.

“With 90 percent of the world’s forests not certified to reputable standards, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case ‘better’),” Thompson wrote. “It is clear that the principles of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and both promote responsible forestry across a range of social, economic and environmental issues.”

In addition, Thompson noted that Sappi, like most paper supplies, sources wood and fiber from multiple sources that are both certified and uncertified.

The company’s paper has both types of fiber in it, yet only one label can be granted points, according to USGBC’s latest language.

“In fact, it is possible to have a product that is labeled as FSC-certified, but actually contains more fiber from SFI sources, and yet USGBC is saying they will only recognize it when it is called FSC certified,” Thompson said. “The exclusion of SFI is based on a lack of understanding of complex supply chains and, in some ways, is a discrimination against labeling practices.”

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which took part in round three of the public comment process, centered the bulk of its comments around the credit for the responsible extraction of raw materials, including wood and paper products.

“Within that, first and foremost we believe that green building rating tools and standards should recognize all forest certification standards and not single out one over the other,” said Jason Metnick, senior director of market access and product labeling with the SFI. “By saying FSC or better, the USGBC still has not defined why they believe FSC is the only system, they have not defined what it means to be better than FSC, they have not defined a process for how they would go about an assessment.”

Currently, several of the council’s sister organizations, including the Building Councils of Italy, Australia and Spain, recognize multiple forest certification standards, according to Metnick.

Additional rating systems and codes that take the inclusive approach include the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), ANSI/ICC 700-2008: National Green Building Standard, ANSI-GBI 01-2010 Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings and Built Green Canada.

“Our comments are focused on why SFI should be included, but we also talked about why SFI is better than FSC and why that language that the USGBC has in draft three doesn't make sense,” Metnick said.

Metnick also stated that 90 percent of forests certified by FSC come from forests that are outside of the U.S.

“USGBC rating tools give preference to looking to meet this credit of FSC by potentially sourcing from outside the U.S.,” he said. “There are strong forest certification systems that operate in the U.S. and SFI is one of those programs. We believe that by looking to SFI you can support the responsible production of the wood and paper product, and archictects and builders can support those communities.”

Metnick added that purchasing SFI-certified products in the U.S. would support jobs and conservation values.

“By recognizing multiple standards the USGBC could send a clear signal that they really, truly care about healthy working forests,” he said. “The key thing is there’s strong support and recognition out there for an inclusive approach to forest certification standards. More than 6,000 people have signed a petition that includes governors, congressmen, architects and conservation organizations encouraging the USGBC to do the right thing.”

While officials with the American Forest Foundation, who puts out the ATFS, said they were pleased to see improvements in the recognition of wood products in the latest draft of LEED 2012, the group remains strongly opposed to the USGBC’s treatment of forest certification.

“By not recognizing multiple forest certification systems, including the American Tree Farm System in LEED 2012, the USGBC is essentially shutting the door on the green building market for family forest owners,” said Melissa Moeller, manager of public affairs for the Foundation.

The ATFS remains the only certification system specifically designed for family forestland owners, according to Moeller.

The 2010-2015 AFF Standards of Sustainability that set the basis for ATFS certification were developed by an independent panel of experts representing academia, conservation organizations, federal and state governments, landowners and foresters.

Moeller said that given the pivotal role LEED plays in creating demand that can sustain forests across the landscape, the “FSC or better” policy could lead to the family forest owners being unable to keep their land and maintain their forests, due to financial pressures and competing land uses.

“In regards to the treatment of forest certification, we urge the USGBC to take the approach laid out in their Pilot Credit 43, which included all credible forest certification systems, including ATFS, SFI, PEFC, CSA and FSC,” she said.

Moeller added that the group was pleased to see the improvements the USGBC has made in LEED 2012, particularly the inclusion of Life Cycle Assessment and the recognition of Environmental Product Declarations.

Incorporating LCA and EPDs into the LEED tool will allow for greater consideration and recognition of the environmental benefits of using wood products in structural and nonstructural components, she said.

“Overall, wood tends to do well compared to other products, and by including these tools, LEED would hopefully create a greater demand for wood products in green building — strengthening markets for family forest owners like us,” she said.

As it revises LEED standards in 2012, the U.S. Green Building Council is considering amendments to forest product certification, a subject that has sparked debate among members of the forestry industry and other stakeholders.

The rating system awards points for using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified products, or wood products grown and harvested in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, as well as for innovation in design, construction, operations and maintenance of a building project. This category is part of the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance system.

In its draft of its 2012 update to LEED, the council stated that it would award points to products that are “FSC or better” — language that has caused a stir among groups with their own certification systems and companies that produce forest products.

The fourth public comment period will open May 1, according to Ashley Katz, spokesperson for the council.

The “FSC or better” language was adopted following a 2008 report by the Yale Program on Forest Policy and Governance, which stated that the suite of forest certification programs of greatest relevance to the U.S. account for more than 99 percent of wood by volume used in construction.

The systems, each of which stems from varying groups in the forestry industry, have traditionally caused environmental and industry groups to debate the relative merits of each forest certification scheme.

Critics of the “FSC or better” policy challenge the lack of a clearly identified rationale for the standard. They note the similarities among the major forest certification programs worldwide, a limited supply of FSC wood that makes earning credits difficult, and the policy as an unrealistic binary choice with destructive practices at one end and exemplary “eco-forestry” at the other.

Additional criticisms, according to Yale’s report, include a lack of consistent controls on the use of non-certified wood, as well as a lack of consistency between policies for wood use and those for other materials.

Varying Certification Systems

The most common certification systems include the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) system, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). In addition, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification has developed an umbrella endorsement system that internationally recognizes national certification schemes in countries around the world.

The multiple systems began after most industrial forestry companies rejected certification under the FSC, according to Yale’s report.

The SFI, which emerged from the American Forest and Paper Association, set out broad principles of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) that it required all its members to support.

In Canada, where most forestlands are publicly owned, industry interests joined forces in 1993 with government and other stakeholders to develop an FSC alternative under Canada’s national standards body, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which became the CSA Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) certification system.

In the U.S., non-industrial forest owners launched the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), which developed its first certification standard in 1941.

The ATFS has not historically fit the definition of forest certification as a “market-based” system with environmental labels and third-party enforcement mechanisms. It instead engages volunteer foresters in helping family tree farm owners learn about and practice sustainable forestry.

More recently, however, the ATFS has been working to establish itself as an internationally recognized system on par with the FSC, SFI and others.

The different interest groups have contrasting views about both forest management and the appropriate structure and role of forest certification. FSC supporters were pushing for more prescriptive performance standards that focus on lower intensity, ecosystem-driven management, while SFI and CSA supporters were promoting more flexible approaches that gave forest owners greater discretion in their management choices. ATFS was concerned with outreach to non-industrial forest owners.

In addition, the certification processes vary for each system. FSC certification involves third-party audits of forest management and the green labeling of forest products that are systematically tracked from certified forest operations to their final point of sale.

SFI, in contrast, began with industry self-auditing before developing a third-party auditing option, and ATFS, CSA and SFI initially did not carry a forest products label.

Over the last decade, according to the report, competition among the systems has forced each to adapt to the demands of competing interests.

“The FSC has become more responsive to market economics and the other systems are more responsive to non-producer concerns,” the report states. “The current result of this competition, is that FSC, SFI and CSA have all made inroads into mainstream wood markets, and the ATFS has been developing a certification option for non-industrial producers.”

All systems have developed the ability to provide certified wood for building if there is significant market demand, according to the report.

Another ongoing debate is over whether the category of “rapidly renewable” resources should be changed to “renewable” resources to award credits to wood and other longer rotation crops, according to the report.

Due to a lack of information, the U.S. Green Building Council is unable to choose a forest certification scheme based solely on its impacts, according to the report.

“The ultimate measure of effectiveness for any forest certification scheme is its on-the-ground impact on forest health and related socio-economic benefits,” the report states. “It is very challenging, however, to separate the environmental and socio-economic effects of forest certification from other local to landscape-level variables that also impact forests.”

Contrasting Views

Laura Thompson, director of technical marketing and sustainable development for Sappi Fine Paper, a producer of wood-free paper used in publications, said the requirement was a “sloppy reference in a standard.”

In a March 20 post for SFI’s Good for Forests blog, Thompson wrote the company has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards.

“With 90 percent of the world’s forests not certified to reputable standards, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case ‘better’),” Thompson wrote. “It is clear that the principles of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and both promote responsible forestry across a range of social, economic and environmental issues.”

In addition, Thompson noted that Sappi, like most paper supplies, sources wood and fiber from multiple sources that are both certified and uncertified.

The company’s paper has both types of fiber in it, yet only one label can be granted points, according to USGBC’s latest language.

“In fact, it is possible to have a product that is labeled as FSC-certified, but actually contains more fiber from SFI sources, and yet USGBC is saying they will only recognize it when it is called FSC certified,” Thompson said. “The exclusion of SFI is based on a lack of understanding of complex supply chains and, in some ways, is a discrimination against labeling practices.”

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which took part in round three of the public comment process, centered the bulk of its comments around the credit for the responsible extraction of raw materials, including wood and paper products.

“Within that, first and foremost we believe that green building rating tools and standards should recognize all forest certification standards and not single out one over the other,” said Jason Metnick, senior director of market access and product labeling with the SFI. “By saying FSC or better, the USGBC still has not defined why they believe FSC is the only system, they have not defined what it means to be better than FSC, they have not defined a process for how they would go about an assessment.”

Currently, several of the council’s sister organizations, including the Building Councils of Italy, Australia and Spain, recognize multiple forest certification standards, according to Metnick.

Additional rating systems and codes that take the inclusive approach include the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), ANSI/ICC 700-2008: National Green Building Standard, ANSI-GBI 01-2010 Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings and Built Green Canada.

“Our comments are focused on why SFI should be included, but we also talked about why SFI is better than FSC and why that language that the USGBC has in draft three doesn't make sense,” Metnick said.

Metnick also stated that 90 percent of forests certified by FSC come from forests that are outside of the U.S.

“USGBC rating tools give preference to looking to meet this credit of FSC by potentially sourcing from outside the U.S.,” he said. “There are strong forest certification systems that operate in the U.S. and SFI is one of those programs. We believe that by looking to SFI you can support the responsible production of the wood and paper product, and archictects and builders can support those communities.”

Metnick added that purchasing SFI-certified products in the U.S. would support jobs and conservation values.

“By recognizing multiple standards the USGBC could send a clear signal that they really, truly care about healthy working forests,” he said. “The key thing is there’s strong support and recognition out there for an inclusive approach to forest certification standards. More than 6,000 people have signed a petition that includes governors, congressmen, architects and conservation organizations encouraging the USGBC to do the right thing.”

While officials with the American Forest Foundation, who puts out the ATFS, said they were pleased to see improvements in the recognition of wood products in the latest draft of LEED 2012, the group remains strongly opposed to the USGBC’s treatment of forest certification.

“By not recognizing multiple forest certification systems, including the American Tree Farm System in LEED 2012, the USGBC is essentially shutting the door on the green building market for family forest owners,” said Melissa Moeller, manager of public affairs for the Foundation.

The ATFS remains the only certification system specifically designed for family forestland owners, according to Moeller.

The 2010-2015 AFF Standards of Sustainability that set the basis for ATFS certification were developed by an independent panel of experts representing academia, conservation organizations, federal and state governments, landowners and foresters.

Moeller said that given the pivotal role LEED plays in creating demand that can sustain forests across the landscape, the “FSC or better” policy could lead to the family forest owners being unable to keep their land and maintain their forests, due to financial pressures and competing land uses.

“In regards to the treatment of forest certification, we urge the USGBC to take the approach laid out in their Pilot Credit 43, which included all credible forest certification systems, including ATFS, SFI, PEFC, CSA and FSC,” she said.

Moeller added that the group was pleased to see the improvements the USGBC has made in LEED 2012, particularly the inclusion of Life Cycle Assessment and the recognition of Environmental Product Declarations.

Incorporating LCA and EPDs into the LEED tool will allow for greater consideration and recognition of the environmental benefits of using wood products in structural and nonstructural components, she said.

“Overall, wood tends to do well compared to other products, and by including these tools, LEED would hopefully create a greater demand for wood products in green building — strengthening markets for family forest owners like us,” she said.

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