Crazy Wood Triangle: FSC, SFI, and LEED

If you work with LEED, you’re familiar with FSC, and if you read good books and magazines, you’ve probably seen both SFI and FSC.  FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) both certify and provide labels for wood and paper products.  Consumers look to these for comfort with regard to environmental impact and sustainable harvesting of wood, but after you read Monte Paulsen’s five-part series on the topic for The Tyee, you may not be so sure about what’s going on.

(1) Future of ‘Green’ Wood Hangs on US Decision
(2) Eco Group’s Trade Complaint Targets US Wood Certifier
(3) Wood War Sprawls to IRS, Fortune 500
(4) LEED Accused of ‘Conspiracy to Monoplize’
(5) Will Green Building Council Kill Green Forestry?

The fact is, there’s a lot fighting going on in the wood industry and it’s been happening to some extent since the mid-1990s.

The Consumer Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, found that FSC is more rigorous than SFI, but both groups could do a better job, according to statements made to Mireya Navarro for The New York Times in “Environmental Groups Spar Over Certifications of Wood and Paper Products.

The USGBC, as you already know, is working on a revamp in how it gives points to projects that use certified woods.  Up until now, FSC has been the only certified wood allowed, but the USGBC would like to move towards a label-blind system.

In any event, there’s no end in sight and it’s hard to say whether consumers are getting what they think they’re getting.  Feel free to sound off on the controversy below.

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  • David Doucette

    interesting article. although i’m for competition in the marketplace, i think when multiple labels get applied to something, it waters down the intent and message for everyone, but that is capitalism. i would love to see the FSC label to be the benchmark and standard. when others are introduced, it weakens the big picture purpose and confuses the consumer. i stick to the FSC label because that’s what i have experience with and know most about and can easily explain it to customers. to have to “learn” about another rating is not attractive to me. not sure what the answer is on this one, would love to hear what others think. thanks for a great topic.

  • John Chittick

    As an independent professional forester knowledgeable about certification schemes, I won’t bore the readers with esoterica but in the world of sustainable forest management certification, depending on one’s world view on environmental narratives, SFI, CSA, and FSC have advantages and disadvantages. By way of perspective, any forest operation that sustains a harvest level over rotational time frame which conserves soil, protects water and offers some level of consideration for other species inhabiting the forest is inherently more environmentally sustainable (in terms of biodiversity and ecology) than any other resource industry upon which humans depend on for their existence. The extent to which you prefer the certification to go well beyond those basics and into political, sociological, and deep ecological dogma beyond that becomes subjective. Economics involves scarcity and trade-offs and in resource economics the extent to which land is used to create wealth is called economic rent. Applying the most restrictive of these certification schemes involve such trade-offs as reducing domestic forest production and economic rent in favour of environmental footprints which include transporting wood from distant countries and all that that implies. The least sustainable entity in the Western world at this point is the funding of government enterprise and obligations. The inevitable reckoning will place extreme demands on productive enterprises. Economically desperate people place very low demands on environmental performance.

    I agree with David that the market allows for choice and preference. I would not choose FSC based on their close ties to ENGO proxies, their widely variable regional standards and closed shop and predetermined outcome of who, where, and what level of rigour will be attached to their certification. Given that only three of their ten Principles involve forest practices, preference to FSC presupposes a certain political outlook.

  • Garden Benches

    Good article. What everyone needs to do is start paying attention to what you are buying and making sure you buy FSC certified products. If the consumer does their bit but making these manufacturers only make FSC certified products we will really be doing a lot for the environment. However if people only buy products based on the price then the FSC scheme will never work as well as it should.

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