Vinyl, wood, and sustainability

August 11, 2010

After more than two years of effort, the U.S. Green Building Council's PVC Task Group has issued its draft report on vinyl building products, and, frankly, it's something of a shocker.

Most observers of green building (including this writer) anticipated that the five-member task group would come down hard on PVC — either that a LEED credit be given for excluding PVC from USGBC-certified projects, or perhaps going so far as to recommend banning vinyl from LEED-rated projects entirely.

To their credit, the task group stuck to the USGBC's rigorous process for reviewing contentious technical issues, carefully evaluated the available data, and, in the end, had the courage and intellectual integrity to conclude that "the available evidence does not support a conclusion that PVC is consistently worse than alternative materials on a life cycle environmental and health basis" (emphasis in original).

The report went on to say that, while "PVC does not emerge as a clear winner or loser" versus other building products, "the current body of knowledge ... does not support a credit in the LEED rating system for eliminating PVC or any particular material" (emphasis in original). The task group concluded further that "material-based credits that discourage the use of specific materials are unnecessarily 'blunt instruments.'"

This is not the USGBC's final word on vinyl and green building — the public has till midnight EST on February 15 to comment on the report before it goes up to the LEED Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee.

Meanwhile, another LEED credit issue is also coming to a head: Whether the USGBC should recognize the Sustainable Forestry Institute (SFI) as a certifying body for wood used in LEED-certified buildings. Currently, only wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is eligible for credit under LEED. In the late 1990s, when LEED was being developed, FSC was essentially the only environmental certification standard in the wood industry. Since then, however, SFI and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) have made great strides in bringing their certification programs up to snuff. SFI and CSA, which are supported by the U.S. and Canadian forestry industry, want equal treatment in LEED.

Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of the USGBC, promised last November at Greenbuild III to hold a "wood summit" to resolve the issue. We agree that it is time for the USGBC to settle this issue, first, by establishing which standards are truly germane to green building, and then, determining whether SFI and CSA meet those standards. If they do not, then the burden is on them to reform. But leaving FSC as the only LEED-approved system without giving the others a fair hearing is outdated and unfair.

By way of disclosure, the Vinyl Institute, Wood Promotion Network, and Hardwood Council were advertisers in our "Progress Report on Sustainability." It should be noted, however, that all three signed and complied with an "Editorial Ethics Policy" stating that editorial control of the Progress Report rested with me, the Chief Editor. The opinions expressed here are mine, not theirs.

         
 

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