Op-Ed

Concerns About Broadening LEED's Wood Credit

I have been following the struggle that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) continues to have with the timber industry concerning the rigidity of the LEED® Rating System, and I am writing today to express my sincere concerns about Alex Wilson’s recommendations for adjusting MRc6 and MRc7 of LEED [see

EBN

Vol. 15, No. 6].

I have studied the white paper that Alex Wilson wrote for USGBC’s board (“Dealing with Wood and Biobased Materials in the LEED Rating System”). The paper is extremely well-written and makes many good points about the shortcomings of the existing MRc6, but in my opinion the recommendations (if adopted by the membership) may not be in the long-term interests of either USGBC or LEED.

As we all know, credibility is very hard to gain, but so easy to lose! Two organizations that have earned credibility concerning green building in recent years are USGBC and

Environmental Building News. Both organizations are known to “call it as they see it” and, considering the complexity of the issues associated with green building, they should each be very proud of the courage that they have demonstrated by taking uncompromising positions over the years.

I am concerned that if LEED is adjusted to include traditional forestry products as acceptable “rapidly renewable materials,” and in so doing allow a point for programs that Wilson’s report says are “less robust” than the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification program, USGBC may be opening a Pandora’s box that will begin to erode the credibility that it has worked so hard to gain.

Contrary to the approach Wilson proposes, I recommend improving the integrity of the MRc6 credit by eliminating those products currently allowed under “rapidly renewable materials” that are found to be unsustainable, rather than rewarding the unsustainable, self-certified, traditional forestry of the timber industry. Determining that points have been erroneously awarded for agricultural practices that have more negative impacts than traditional forestry does not compensate for the unsustainable aspects of traditional forestry. Will the Council subsequently be expected to adjust LEED to award points for vinyl siding because it is more durable than many other siding materials even though we are all aware of its toxicity?

Let’s stick to our original commitment to celebrate only truly better ways of building rather than allowing ourselves to be worn down by well-orchestrated and well-financed lobbying efforts. The consumers who are actually driving this transformation of the building industry are counting on us to get it right. We cannot afford to lose their confidence. If we do, “greenwashing” will prevail, and true sustainability will suffer.

Bill Edgerton, AIA, President

The Oak Hill Fund

Charlottesville, Virginia

Published August 29, 2006

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