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USGBC considers changes in wood policy

USGBC considers changes in wood policy

By Jeff Yoders | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200607 issue of BD+C.

The U.S. Green Building Council recently announced that its board of directors has told the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design steering committee to address two proposed changes to the wood and biobased materials credits in the LEED sustainable building rating system.

Changes to Materials and Resources Credit 6 (MRc6), which deals with rapidly renewable materials like cork and bamboo, and Materials and Resources Credit 7 (MRc7), which rewards the use of wood-based products that carry third-party Forest Stewardship Council certification, were recommended to the USGBC board at its May 4 meeting in New Orleans. The recommendations were the result of a September 2005 wood certification summit of many USGBC member organizations such as the FSC, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the Canadian Standards Association. Alex Wilson, president of BuildingGreen Inc. in Brattleboro, Vt., and editor of Environmental Building News, submitted a white paper to the board at the New Orleans meeting that was based on the findings of that meeting and other research.

The recommendation for MRc6 would change it to a credit that would allow all biobased materials, including wood, to be eligible for the credit, provided they meet minimum levels of environmental certification.

The recommended change for MRc7 asks the board to develop a system to open up the wood products credit to certification systems other than the FSC, but also maintain the FSC-only certification requirement until such a system is in place. The recommendation noted that since the LEED system was launched in 2000 other forest management certification systems, specifically the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, have improved enough that opening up credit seven to non-FSC products is no longer debatable. The member organizations at the wood summit were charged with helping the USGBC define minimum criteria for wood certification systems.

"With the LEED green building system we're looking to comprehensively address major issues like energy and indoor air quality. It was decided that this (internal argument over the two credits involving wood) was becoming a distraction for the movement," said Michelle Moore, USGBC VP of community and communications. "Now that it's gone to the steering committee it will go through USGBC's consensus process where there will be stakeholder engagement, public comment, and finally a member ballot."

The USGBC must now decide which group within its ranks will come up with the system for accrediting new wood certification groups. The American Forest & Paper Association released a press release applauding the proposed changes, but also said that it would not want any recommendations for the accreditation system to come from the USGBC's Wood sub-Technical Advisory Group.

"We would caution USGBC to retain a credible and independent consultant who can provide unbiased input into the assessment process," AF&PA spokesman John Mechem wrote, "rather than relying on the recommendations of the Wood sub-TAG, a group that has previously displayed a pronounced bias against recognizing any forest certification program other than the FSC."

The FSC is just as interested in which group will recommend the program.

"We essentially agreed to open up the process to other certification programs back at the meeting in September," said Michael Washburn, VP of forestry and marketing for the FSC. "What that process will be now is anyone's guess. One view is the Wood sub-TAG is the home of these issues, others say the LEED Steering Committee is where it should stay."

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