SFI scores victories and momentum

2012-01-06 Ashley Bach

Last we checked on the Sustainable Forestry Initiative-Forest Stewardship Council (SFI-FSC) debate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had just chosen domestic wood as a preferred material for new construction, and the Forest Service said it would promote not just the LEED building standard but also Green Globes and the National Green Building Standard, both of which recognize SFI.

The victories continue (as one can see in this SFI graphic), the latest being in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage recently signed an executive order that said new state buildings must use only green building standards that give credits equally to SFI, FSC, American Tree Farm System and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification systems.

According to Kathy Abusow, CEO of SFI:

The reason is straightforward – Governor LePage believes that by supporting the full range of forest certification programs, Maine is advancing the state’s forest industry and helping its forest landowners compete in local, national and international markets. Seven million acres/2.8 million hectares of Maine forests are certified to the SFI 2010-2014 Standard.

Abusow added that LePage’s order could be a “powerful incentive” for the U.S. Green Building Council to level the playing field for LEED. “Right now, the LEED rating tools only give credit for products certified to the Forest Stewardship Council,” she wrote. “Three-quarters of certified lands in North America – a total of 370 million acres/150 million hectares – are certified to SFI, ATFS and CSA, and are not recognized.”

Two leaders from Weyerhaeuser also recently shed some light on the ongoing SFI-FSC debate. Cassie Phillips, vice president, Sustainable Forests and Products, and Edie Sonne Hall, manager, Sustainable Forests and Products, wrote an article describing the company’s experiences with both SFI and FSC.

In the story (pages 6-7 of the PDF), in the Society of American Foresters’ publication, Western Forester, Phillips and Sonne Hall say that Weyerhaeuser’s use of both standards has given the company insight into LEED’s refusal to give credit to SFI.

The source of the conflict around forest certification is not that LEED gives credit for FSC wood from Oregon and Washington, where FSC standards are highly restrictive and have limited uptake, over SFI wood from Oregon and Washington. It’s because LEED gives credit for FSC wood from these and other countries over SFI wood from Oregon and Washington, where SFI wood is grown under equal or better environmental standards.

Because FSC standards are different in different places, the general claim inherent in LEED’s wood credit—that FSC-certified products, regardless of source, come from better environmental practices than products certified to other standards—can mislead consumers.

Instead of LEED, the U.S. government should be using open, consensus-based green building standards designated by the American National Standards Institute, Phillips and Sonne Hall say. Providing more promise for the future, the “International Green Construction Code is also being developed through full consensus processes, and once approved, should serve as the model green building code for adoption by states and local governments.”