NO to the LEED Wood Credit Revision
I recently voted; this time against the proposed revisions to the certified-wood credit in LEED.
It wasn't an easy decision, primarily because I have great respect for USGBC's process and, specifically, for the very smart and thoughtful people who have worked on this credit for more than four years.
I based my decision on what I see as the lessening of standards and an opening for other groups such as industry-supported Sustainable Forestry Initiative to gain entry to LEED. I admit I was swayed by an open letter from the Forest Stewardship Council, co-signed by 14 major environmental groups urging a no vote "with the reason being benchmark prerequisites should be at least as rigorous as FSC." The concerns center around "vague and weak" forest certification governance requirements and optional rather than mandatory provisions. Other groups have expressed similar concerns and urged USGBC to make modifications to LEED more rigorous, not less so.
Another factor in my vote was a conversation with a FSC stakeholder. Wilsonart, the world's largest manufacturer of decorative laminate, has recently received FSC certification for all its products. Laminates are 70-percent fiber based and in Wilsonart's case, contain 40-percent controlled and FSC-certified content. For them, the wood credit revision is a big deal.
Joe Branch, technical manager for Wilsonart, voiced legitimate concerns. "The proposed credit would actually make it easier for us because it relaxes standards but we prefer they remain high," he stated. "There are fundamental differences between FSC and the other groups on issues such as tree plantations, genetic modification and the rights of indigenous peoples."
In a strange twist, SFI has joined FSC and environmental groups and urged a no vote." Over the past five years, SFI Inc has been committed to constructively engaging in the U.S. Green Building Council's forest certification evaluation in the LEED rating system. However, with a vote upon us for a set of overly complicated benchmarks that do not present a workable solution, we simply must vote no." The group also complained that USGBC has not been responsive to its comments in this final version and stressed, "the 81 detailed benchmarks represent an overly complicated set of criteria that no other building material is measured against."
With that, I have to agree. The benchmark document is difficult for the layperson, including me, to understand and the credit language itself is confusing. Another change: only USGBC members who opted to join a "consensus group" can vote on the credit revision. If you didn't sign up this summer you can't vote. USGBC insists it's looked at the makeup of the group to insure representation across the primary membership groups.
This issue has been extremely contentious. As CEO Rick Fedrizzi said in a letter to USGBC members, "As we fully expected, we've successfully made some on both sides of this issue unhappy. This is evidenced by the tone of the countless letters we've received along with the 4,000 public comments made during three public comment periods."
Understood, but with all that, they didn't get it right.