An Open Letter to USGBC Requesting Data on Certified Wood

An open letter to USGBC requests certain data related to its contentious certified wood credit that has been the focus of much scrutiny within the green building community over the past year.

As you may know, the USGBC recently accepted public comments on proposed amendments to its certified wood credit. The purpose of the effort is to establish “a clear set of metrics, proposed as the USGBC Forest Certification System Benchmark, that any forest certification system must meet in order to be recognized within LEED.” In its current form, only Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products are eligible for LEED points.

Earlier this year, Toronto-based construction consultant and gbNYC reader Leslie Marshall was asked by the Canadian Wood Council and the Canadian Forest Service division of Natural Resources Canada (similar to the U.S. Department of the Interior) to lead a research team and evaluate various green building rating systems. His team produced a report called Certified Wood and the Impact of LEED, which looked closely at the Canadian market and attempted to quantify most aspects of stakeholder experiences with specific rating systems, including LEED.

Recently, during the public comment period to USGBC’s proposed amendments to LEED’s certified wood credit, Mr. Leslie wrote a letter to USGBC requesting that it release certain data related to the credit, including how many certified projects had actually earned it, in order to assist the timber industry in assessing the merits of the proposed amendments; to date, the letter (and follow up inquiries) has gone unanswered.

“I strongly believe that this industry- and the green building movement – will benefit from transparency in the development of standards, codes and design guides; and sharing information,” he said in his email to us. We, of course, agree; at his request, Mr. Leslie’s letter, contact information, and link to his team’s report are reprinted below.

September 1, 2008

To USGBC: Release data on certified wood Regarding the USGBC’s one-month public comment period on proposed revisions to its certified wood credit, I believe that the USGBC has “narrow-scoped” their proposed changes to a palatable minimum while maintaining the status quo. In part, this was done by setting its Materials & Resources Technical Advisory Group (“MR TAG”) and the MR TAG’s consultant just two tasks: one, to perform a desktop comparison of certification systems; and two, to define a prototype certification benchmark for use in LEED.

Unfortunately, all of the work of the MR TAG and its consultants has been performed without any basic information about what is happening in the forest, the supply yard, or the construction site. The certified wood submittal form that everyone who uses FSC-certified wood must complete requires very detailed information to be provided to the USGBC. In fact, more information must be submitted to the USGBC to achieve credit MRc7 than any other LEED point.

What happens to all this information? Why, for example, won’t the USGBC tell its MR TAG, its members, and the community at large how many LEED-certified projects have achieved the certified wood credit? This and other important information would provide a more useful knowledge base than the esoteric minutiae contained in the MR TAG reports.

Marshall Leslie

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