By Trish Holder
There’s a custody battle over this little tree – a chain of custody fight that is.
Two major certification bodies, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), want you to demand that this little tree carry their certification label. What does that label mean? The shorthand version is that this little tree (and all his neighbors) were brought up and nurtured in a way as to not threaten the health and welfare of future generations of little trees.
Like most custody fights, this one has gotten UGLY. Money and politics (big surprise) are involved – and another entity that seems to hold the keys to this little tree’s future: the U.S. Green Building Council, the originators of the LEED green building certification system.
What’s LEED got to do with it?
Locally (that is, here in Greensboro, NC), most of us associate LEED certification with our own Proximity Hotel, the first LEED Platinum certified hotel in America. But LEED certified government buildings, schools, hospitals, etc. have been popping up all over the country (and world) in the last decade. There are even LEED certified homes – or, as in my own case, LEED registered homes that are “pacing themselves” in the certification process. (Ah, but that’s another blog I’ve yet to find the stamina to write….)
Here’s the kicker. Right now LEED only recognizes FSC certification for the award of certain credits related to wood. That doesn’t mean LEED certified buildings can’t use wood that isn’t FSC certified – it just means you’re out of luck in obtaining those particular credits. That makes SFI advocates really mad. They want the USGBC to recognize that their products are just as good as FSC certified products. For one thing, if the USGBC doesn’t recognize this, companies whose products are not FSC certified stand to lose a whole lot of business. And, by the way, there are a lot more SFI certified products in the US than FSC. That translates into jobs lost, monopolies, etc.
But the issue is far more complicated than that. How complicated? Let me put it to you this way. I’ve been following the debate for about 5 years now and have yet to form a solid opinion myself.
One thing is for sure. Advocates for SFI and FSC are about as friendly toward one another as Al Gore and George W. Bush. Which one is Al Gore in this scenario? Which one is George W. Bush? Heck if I know. Self-interests and big economic payback are at play on both ends. And as a consumer, I’m a little bitter that all this politics has made it so hard for me to make an informed decision.
So what’s the well-meaning homeowner to do?
Many American consumers, armed with a little bit of information, meaning they have heard of FSC certification and know it is supposed to be “green”, will look for FSC certified products without having any idea of the forces that influenced them toward this decision. If they price compare, they will find that FSC certified products will not only be harder to find, but about 15% more expensive, a pill that some will swallow but most will not.
If they dig a little deeper (or even read this blog) they will learn that 60% of FSC certified wood is imported to the US and Canada from other countries. At this point in our economic history, most Americans just hate that. Still, FSC has been around longer and is largely accepted as being the more stringent of the two certifications. And it has the credibility granted to it via the USGBC LEED rating system. It’s a quandary.
So what is the well-meaning homeowner to do? Well, you can get educated, but you best set aside about 12 hours of study. Here’s a site that with links in a chronological order to help bring you up to speed on the FSC/SFI debate. Read them closely, and I’m sure you will find yourself just as torn as I am.
Or, forget the certifications and source wood as locally as possible. I’m going to go out on a limb here (pardon the pun) to say that at this point in time most US and Canadian forests are sustainably and responsibly grown and harvested. Whether the products are FSC or SFI certified, you’ll at least know that the carbon impact of getting the trees from the ground and into your home was minimum. And you supported your local economy.
It’s a very imperfect selection process, but it’s the choice I made several years ago when building my own home. After several years of observing this great debate, which only seems to be getting more confusing by the minute, I would make the same decision today.