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LEED & Certified Wood: Let's Acknowledge 'Wood is Good'

Elizabeth Baldwin

Currently LEED recognizes only FSC-certified material as being able to contribute credits to LEED certified projects. Many have advocated that they should open up the standard to other certifying systems such as SFI and PEFC. There is also an understandably strong feeling in the U.S. hardwood industry that U.S. hardwoods should be recognized for their highly sustainable nature even though much of the nation's forests are not FSC-certified.

I don't want to debate right now the differences between FSC and SFI or other groups and the details of forest management policy. I want to focus on the idea that "wood is good." Wood, depending on how you calculate it, is the only building product with a negative carbon footprint. It is the only completely and indefinitely renewable building resource we have. It comes naturally in nearly infinite colors and patterns and qualities and many species offer incredible natural durability or strength that make it ideal for specific construction. BREEAM, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method is the U.K. counterpart for LEED. It gives a point simply for using wood, and then adds points for certified material. I'd like to encourage that concept with all green building programs. Let's start by acknowledging first and foremost that "wood is good." Let's then say that "certified wood is better." We might even say that "FSC is best," and look at an additional point for that, but can't we start with "wood is good?"

Less than 10% of the total global forest area, about 20% of total commercial forest area, is certified under one of about 60 different certification systems, either private or governmental in nature. These 296 million hectares of certified forest worldwide are heavily weighted towards the developed nations and temperate hardwood and softwood production. The amount of certified tropical timber available is very limited because of limited financial and technical resources in many developing countries.

As we've already discussed, we cannot stop purchasing tropical timber in an effort to save it. If you commit to only buying certified material, yes, it means there should be a slight increase in demand and therefore hopefully an increase of certified supply. However it might also mean a much greater increase in lost forests as poor countries who cannot afford certification turn to faster and easier means of utilizing the land for quick income. Our goal should be to give good value to all wood products and help developing countries expand their value-added production opportunities. The more long-term employment and financial return they see coming from their forest resources, the more incentive they will have to maintain a healthy and growing forest.

"Wood is good." Can't that be the bottom line and we move on together from there?


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