When is a LEED Building an Environmental Problem?

May 9, 2016
Green Building Council Responsible

In April 2016 the US Green Building Council (USGBC) announced a new pilot credit that rewards the use of wood certified under the timber industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Previously LEED had only recognized wood certified according to the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The new pilot credit is a problem because while FSC is an independent, science-based system, SFI is a sham. 

The USGBC move came as a shock to environmental groups who are united in support of FSC, and opposed to SFI. Among other problems, SFI certifies vast clearcuts, allows complex forest ecosystems to be turned into barren monocultures, and accepts logging that harms water quality and jeopardizes already imperiled fish and wildlife. 

USGBC suggests that the purpose of the pilot (which USGBC calls an Alternative Compliance Path) is to test the feasibility of a new LEED requirement for evidence that wood was legally harvested. This should be easy to support. However, what it looks like to leading environmental groups in the US and Canada, who submitted a letters to USGBC opposing the pilot program, is that this pilot credit is simply a concession to the largest, worst  logging companies in North America.

USGBC has a long history of collaborating closely with environmental group experts before they develop and announce a new program. This time they didn’t do that. But they did consult closely with the timber industry. And within 24 hours of the USGBC announcement, SFI and other industry groups released coordinated statements celebrating their inclusion in LEED.

The pilot credit isn’t yet a permanent part of LEED and unless it is revised so that it no longer recognizes SFI, it should never become one. 

The stakes are high: LEED is the most credible and widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED has played a key role driving responsible practices in the forest products industry. This new pilot credit could undermine years of progress aligning environmental protection with the building industry. 

This is no time for USGBC to abandon its legacy of collaboration, transparency, and  leadership. It needs to resist the pressure from the logging industry and maintain its commitment to responsible forest management. 

April 26, 2016 letter to USGBC by eight leading US environmental groups.

April 26, 2016 letter to USGBC by leading Canadian environmental groups.