Regional LBM associations are scrambling to ensure that a flurry of well-intentioned bills in legislatures across the country promoting green construction don't end up cramping the movement–or dealers' potential sales.
What concerns some regional LBM associations is that a number of the 100-plus pieces of state and local green building legislation in the works would require government buildings to be built to the standards of LEED, a green building rating system sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), without consideration of other programs. One of the concerns the associations have about LEED is that it recognizes only lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Association advocates say they fear that by limiting the language to just LEED, some suppliers will get squeezed, a de facto monopoly will be created, and the opportunity for future innovation will be limited.
Choosing Options LEED is by far the most recognizable green building rating system for commercial construction. The other widely known commercial system is the Green Building Initiative (GBI)?sponsored Green Globes, which the GBI is in the process of developing into an ANSI standard. Green Globes permits several certification types, including those from FSC, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and American Tree Farm.
On the residential side, the NAHB also is working toward an ANSI standard for its Model Green Home Building Guidelines. The guidelines have been adapted by 18 home building organizations around the country since their introduction in 2005. In addition, USGBC has launched a pilot program of LEED for Homes, and there are a variety of other active programs, including Energy Star and those developed by local green building groups.
Billed Green The green building bills under consideration vary markedly across states and municipalities and are in various stages of consideration. Some specify that government buildings meet LEED guidelines, to which regional associations have responded by lobbying to broaden the language. In Colorado, for example, the Mountain States Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, along with several other groups, succeeded in getting Senate Bill 51 amended to include expanded language requiring a "high-performance standard certification system" rather than just LEED, as was originally written. The Lumbermen's Association of Texas contributed to efforts to amend a Texas Senate bill to take out LEED language; the amended bill grants the State Energy Conservation Office the power to decide which standards are appropriate. And the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA) is working on getting the language of several bills expanded, including one in New York State, and recently successfully lobbied to have a Connecticut bill amended. Some bills, such as in New York City, have already passed with LEED language.
At the federal level, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association is urging changes to a Senate bill that would define high-performance buildings as those meeting LEED.
The process can be long and repetitive, as even bills with amended language can stall, starting the process all over again. That's been the case for the Lumber Association of California and Nevada, where executive director Ken Dunham has been continually monitoring bills in both states that have been introduced, lobbied and amended, and then recently either vetoed for other reasons or stalled in committee.
Cause for Concern? Association executives note that, by and large, there is scant opposition by dealers to green building overall. Rather, associations are concerned that LEED-specific laws will make it too difficult for suppliers to conduct business. "Our members are ready for green building. They're excited. They're embracing the environmentally friendly movement," says Aisha Tator, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for NRLA. "We've just got to make sure it's equitable and fair."
Both Tator and Dunham expressed worry about their members being able to supply FSC-certified lumber. Tator is working with some NRLA members to document actual time and costs for acquiring FSC products to get a quantitative gauge on supply difficulties.
Michael Washburn, Ph.D., a former vice president for FSC-US who now consults for the organization, acknowledges that there may be some supply issues with FSC for smaller dealers, but he argued that this is largely due to economies of scale that, like any new product, will improve over time. The number of companies FSC-certified in green building categories alone increased from 150 in 2003 to more than 400 today, a number Washburn expects to continue to increase as the LEED for Homes program rolls out and awareness–and demand–increase.
Another contentious issue, says American Forest & Paper Association press secretary Charles Lardner, is the idea of creating a green monopoly for a private entity, in this case USGBC, on government-funded construction. He says doing so would be the equivalent of requiring government vehicles to be hybrids–but only Toyota hybrids.
Such a monopoly also would discourage future competition and innovation, says Mark Rossolo, director of state and local outreach for the GBI. "Yes, you need to have regulations on there to ensure that you're hitting a specific technical rigor, that it's getting to the level that you want to get to," says Rossolo, "but you certainly don't want people to be not inspired or have no reasons to try and do something bigger, better, faster, stronger."
Others simply believe that LEED discriminates against wood because it only recognizes FSC lumber, awards limited points for wood, and favors concrete and steel. USGBC vice president of community Michelle Moore disputes these assertions. Two of LEED's 69 points apply to wood products, says Moore, but those two points are part of a comprehensive system that covers six categories of which materials is only one. In addition, using non-FSC wood products is not a penalty within LEED; it simply means points will need to be acquired elsewhere. On the LEED for Homes side, Moore calls wood "a very important part of home construction," and says that USGBC is awaiting a resolution from its consensus committees on the question of wood certification systems prior to the full program roll-out next year.
Underlying all this activity is a passionate debate about which options–FSC vs. SFI, LEED vs. Green Globes, etc.–work best and what's the best way to conserve natural resources and support the timber business. Disputes over managing forests began long before the green building initiative was born, but now that they're being played out in the market and in governments nationwide, pro dealers have much more reason to get involved.