A win for wood: US Green Building Council to give credit to wood from more certified forests

Last week, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it has created a new alternative compliance path in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard to encourage more responsibly-sourced building materials. This new path, for the first time, will give a LEED credit to wood from American Tree Farm System (ATFS) certified forests and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified forests.

This is significant change for the LEED standards, and a considerable victory for the forest products industry, the forestry and conservation communities and Tree Farmers across the U.S., all whom care for our nation’s forests.

Family landowners make up the largest ownership group of forests in the U.S., collectively owning more than one-third of the forests across the country, more than the federal government or corporations. These 22 million families and individuals, whether they own ten or 100 acres, steward the forests, providing local sustainable wood fiber while also conserving clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and ensuring the overall health of our forests.

For more than a decade, these individuals, with forestry groups, forest industry representatives and state and federal legislators have urged USGBC to recognize all credible forest certification programs, as it will encourage more wood use, and responsible forest management.

Now, through this path, LEED will allow builders to earn credits for using wood certified by any credible certification system recognized by ASTM International, the global leader in development of voluntary and consensus based standards. ATFS, SFI, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are all recognized by ATSM.

What’s more, this new path is a win for wood. This path will allow a significantly larger portion of sustainable wood products grown in the U.S. to qualify for the LEED standard. This will allow more wood to be used in green buildings, creating more markets across the nation.

Today, some estimate that half the commercial buildings being built in the U.S., are being built to a green standard. Wood is considered to be a better building material choice for the environment compared to other materials, like steel and concrete — which consume 12 and 20 percent more energy from start to finish in terms of building; and generate 15 and 29 percent more greenhouse gases.

Previously, if a builder decided to use wood products and wished to earn a LEED credit, they had to source from a singular certification program, FSC. With the majority of certified forests in the U.S. certified by ATFS and SFI, not FSC this made it very difficult for builders to use wood, over readily available steel and concrete.

Today, new advancements in technology have helped make wood a more popular building material. Forest products companies are developed unique mass timber products that are geared specifically towards housing and mid-rise construction.

On top of this, the Federal government has made efforts to create opportunities to encourage more wood in buildings. Last year the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a Tall Wood Competition that awarded buildings in New York City and Portland for innovation, versatility and sustainability.

Stimulating the markets for wood products also helps family landowners to continue to conserve their forests. Annually, landowners incur costs for management practices. Markets that want sustainably managed wood, encourage landowners to earn income to replant, restore and keep forests as forests.

Ultimately, USGBC encouraging more responsibly sourced materials is a win-win for all involved. Continuing to create value in forests and sustainable wood products helps the forest products industry as well as those who own and care for the forests, keeping this vital resource abundant.

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