By Sarah Bousquet
In its continued efforts to further advance environmentally responsible forest management, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently announced a new pilot Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) to promote the use of certified legal wood. While industry members are on board with the broader cause, the details of the pilot program have been met with varying responses.
One concern has been the immediate and vast expansion of LEED-recognized wood certifiers, which has quadrupled. Previously, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was the only certification system recognized by LEED. The pilot ACP now includes wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (FSI), American Tree Farm, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and FSC.
The FSC was not aware of or involved in the development of the prerequisite that screens illegal forest products out of LEED projects. However, the organization is in support of the USGBC’s effort and working to help educate the market. “This is an important push,” said Brad Kahn, communications director, FSC-US, “but because prerequisites apply to all LEED projects, the USGBC is testing the idea as a pilot ACP which is causing confusion in the marketplace.”
The pilot also references a standard — ASTM 7612 — that is not widely used in the design field and is causing additional con- fusion. Mara Baum, AIA LEED Fellow and healthcare sustainable design leader at HOK, San Francisco, noted the move toward a potential prerequisite for legal wood is positive — particularly for international projects — but attaching it to this specific standard may not be appropriate. “There is concern that the USGBC decided to merge an important and pressing legal wood issue around an ASTM standard that starts to water down other sustainable wood practices,” she said. “We [designers] don’t under- stand what goes on behind the scenes, and the timber industry is quite complex. It’s as if we’ve gone from being asked to design buildings to being required to have a deep understanding of international trade. There are a lot of questions arising as to what the ASTM standard means, how to understand it and what to include in design specifications to meet it.”
FSC’s Kahn agreed. “ASTM 7612 is not widely accepted as a reference for screening out illegal forest products, so we hope USGBC will work with architects, designers and people with experience verifying legality to identify reference standards that are widely understood and effective.”
Overall, this is a process that will continue to take work and open dialogue from all members of industry. Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), agreed that while this is a positive step in the right direction, it will take time for designers and manufacturers to become familiar with new rules and standards. “This is something that has been discussed for years now but is definitely a positive announcement,” he said. “There is recognition occurring worldwide now with many large construction projects being wood-based, so I would imagine for projects specifically seeking LEED certifications this will increase the use of legal wood in design specs going forward.”
Scot Horst, chief product officer, USGBC, also mentioned the relevance and timeliness of the announcement. “Today, it is possible to achieve the LEED wood credit and still have illegal wood in a LEED-certified project,” he said. “This is because LEED projects receive credit for a percentage of the wood on the project, rather than on all wood used. LEED is a global standard with a vision of market transformation. Addressing the illegal wood issue in LEED projects, especially outside of the U.S., comes at a critical time both for the global issue of illegal logging and unfair forestry practices, and also for LEED and its growing influence.”