Not Enough Votes for LEED Certified Wood Benchmark

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A proposed rewrite of the certified wood policy in the LEED rating systems failed to get enough “Yes” votes from U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members to become policy. USGBC announced that of the 965 people who had opted in to a voting body, 54% voted, with 55% of votes counted “Yes,” and 42% counted “No.” Three percent were tallied as abstaining. Without a two-thirds majority, the policy failed to pass under LEED rules, and the certified wood credits will remain unchanged.

Only certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is recognized under credits in the various LEED rating systems awarding points for sustainably harvested forest products. For the last decade, other groups, especially the more industry-friendly Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), have sought entry. A proposal emerged from USGBC’s technical committees over the last several years that would have judged certification programs against a benchmark created by USGBC. The benchmark was expected to continue to allow full credit for only FSC, and also allow partial recognition of SFI.

Given that stakeholders on both sides took issue with this approach (see “Revised LEED Wood Credit Slammed from Both Sides,” March 2010), it is perhaps surprising that the proposal fared as well as it did in the vote. FSC–US had encouraged “No” votes, under a rally cry of “FSC or better.” SFI had also promised to vote “No,” on the grounds that the benchmark was too complex and that USGBC hadn’t taken in stakeholder input.

EBN spoke with one “Yes” voter, David Withee of Diversified Casework. Withee said that his company would be dropping its USGBC membership in protest of the proposal’s failure. He attributed the “No” votes to publicity efforts of SFI, and especially FSC. “I think USGBC tried to do the right thing,” he said, “but the communication on this hasn't been very good.” Withee said that on his projects he would encourage use of the Green Globes rating system, which doesn’t have an FSC-only policy.

The wood battleground now moves to the next version of LEED, with a planned release date of late 2012. That draft is out for a first public comment period through December 31st, 2010 (see “Your Guide to the New Draft of LEED,” Nov. 2010). Although it defers any changes to the certified wood credit to the process that just concluded in the vote, the draft includes changes to two other credits—those for materials reuse, and rapidly renewable materials—that would reward points for non-FSC wood products.

USGBC did not immediately signal what, if any, next steps it would take on certified wood specifically. Brendan Owens, P.E., vice president of LEED technical development, struck a reflective tone, telling EBN, “We’ve relied on our membership’s knowledge and leadership for the past decade and they’ve never let us down.”

Owens signaled that USGBC would try to build on the years of work that have gone into this proposal, noting, “Failure to capitalize on the institutional expertise we’ve internalized and the connections to external stakeholders we’ve developed would be (in addition to being disrespectful of our volunteers’ contribution) a big mistake.”

– Tristan Roberts

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December 7, 2010