LEED finally recognizes SFI forest certification


The debate between the two leading forest certification systems – the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – has been going on for many years. We have followed it closely, with a lot of posts and updates (here’s an example). But the funny thing about the debate is, it really didn’t need to be a debate at all.

SFI has always just wanted a level playing field. The leading green building standard in the world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), had never recognized wood from SFI-certified forests, or really any other certification system other than FSC. FSC had a monoply, and SFI just wanted to be treated equally.

Now it’s all finally changing. It was just announced that the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers LEED, will now give credit for wood from SFI and other certification systems besides FSC. This is a really big deal, because it means that the majority of sustainably managed forests in the U.S. will now be able to be part of the world’s largest green building standard. That opens up a world of opportunity for American timber.

It’s no wonder that Kathy Abusow, the President and CEO of SFI, proclaimed “Hallelujah!” in the headline of her blog post about the news.

This is a game changer that will see responsibly managed forests across North America become part of the emerging green building sector.

This happy day has been years in the making. A pathway to earning LEED credits has always been a priority for me because I’ve known for a long time that the SFI community would be a strong partner for the USGBC. The SFI community is dedicated to improving quality of life, responsible forest management, conservation and responsible procurement of forest products.

SFI’s commitment to these values is shared by other forest certification standards as well. So it’s wonderful to see this new LEED pathway includes the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and other standards around the world endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

Tom Martin is the President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation, which runs the American Tree Farm System. He wrote in the Huffington Post that the move by LEED will lead to more conservation.

This news, that LEED will now accept wood from ATFS and SFI certified forests, will provide these forest owners with the recognition they deserve for their stewardship, and the markets that can help them continue to keep their forests providing resources.

Markets are critically important to family forest owners and sustainable forestry. Landowners incur costs on an annual basis for management and taxes, yet most do not harvest every year, or even every five years. Markets that want sustainably-managed wood help landowners earn the needed income to replant, restore and keep their land in forests. Without income to cover these costs, family-owned woodlands are at risk of being converted to cotton fields or strip malls.

Today, it is estimated that half the commercial buildings in the U.S. are being built to a green standard. With USGBC joining its competitor Green Globes in recognizing wood from all credible certification systems, forest owners could see an increase in the use of ATFS-certified wood.

In this case, better markets mean more forests.

Ultimately, we know that we will continue to need forest products – for household items, to send packages, to create buildings – and we will continue to need forests – for our drinking water, clean air, and a home for critters. Encouraging the use of sustainable wood, that supports landowners in conservation, truly provides a win-win.

Abusow from SFI did caution that the reform from LEED is still technically a pilot project, which means the SFI community will need to market its products well to ensure the change is permanent.

Achieving recognition within LEED is a milestone we are celebrating. But now the real work begins. Before the USGBC decides to issue an updated version of LEED, it always examines who is using the credits and assesses the demand for them.

Ultimately, SFI’s success under the LEED pilot program will depend on demand from the people in the design and construction community who are pursuing LEED credits. If the SFI community comes together to encourage the use of wood and paper products certified to SFI in LEED projects, it will ensure we are recognized in the next version of LEED.