Everyone involved in the green industry needs to be aware of the increasing pressure being exerted by government entities that could slow down the pace of green building projects. The enormous progress that has been made in promoting and building sustainable government buildings is being threatened by special interest groups. There has been a spate of federal and state laws and regulations lately attempting to severely restrict the building of structures able to earn LEED Gold or Platinum certification.
The U.S. Congress first passed a 2011-2012 Defense Authorization Bill prohibiting the use of federal funds to achieve Gold or Platinum status. Notice the wording, in that a building is able to achieve the status as long as it does not cost more than it would cost to achieve LEED Silver status.
While the federal government is basing its restrictions on cost, there is a general understanding that wood industry lobbyists have a lot to do with the defense bill provisions and other legislative actions in the pipeline. The governor of Maine, Paul LePage, made no bones about the fact that the executive order he signed concerning state building projects is directly related to wood products. Specifically, the effective ban on the use of LEED is achieved by requiring equal recognition of wood products that are certified by the following organizations: American Tree Farm System, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification systems.
Now Georgia has jumped onto the bandwagon. Governor Nathan Deal has also signed an executive order requiring that green building projects recognize more forestry certifications than the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Like Maine, the order recognizes three forestry standards – FSC, SFI and the American Tree Farm System. In fact, the Georgia order seems to imitate the Maine order. The implication is that more states may follow.
The fact is, this all mostly about lobbying by the wood industry. Though we support all green building efforts, the FSC establishes exceptional standards that ensure green buildings are as sustainable as possible. In addition, LEED already offers the ability to earn optional credits even if using non-certified local wood. One of the main problems with these patterns of laws and executive orders is that they seem to attack LEED. The important point to keep in mind is that addressing sustainability and climate change is going to require a concerted high-quality effort that requires the highest building standards. Quality standards can easily get diluted when put under pressure from special interest groups. It happens all the time. Therefore, as an industry, we must be aware of these new laws and regulations and ensure that green building standards are not diluted. It is the classic case of a slippery slope.
We are not against LEED supporting other forestry standards besides FSC. However, that is predicated with the understanding that the other standards are as exacting and productive as FSC. In other words, there should be no leniency in adopting standards in LEED that lesson the ability to develop and build successful green design and building projects. To us, it is not a case of which wood standard is available to promote wood sales, but rather a case of which wood standard supports sustainability to the highest degree.