Initial responses to the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) proposed revisions of how wood qualifies under its LEED green building scheme indicate the principal wood certification groups are still unhappy--for much different reasons--with how USGBC is handling the issue.

"[T]he benchmarks are outrageously detailed and get into the weeds on governance, forest management and accreditation ..." declared Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

"This approach does nothing to advance the aspirational goals of green building that encourage and recognize progressive efforts to attain true sustainability," said John Dunford, chairman of the group representing companies certified under the Canadian Standards Association's (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management System. "Apparently, dinosaurs come in all colors--including green."

Meanwhile, the U.S. branch of the Forest Stewardship Council has its own concerns regarding whether the USGBC's proposal will, as it put it, "distinguish truly environmentally and socially sound forestry from status-quo forestry in North America." Many of those concerns deal with the very details that SFI and other organizations have decried.

The three groups' comments were prompted by USGBC's revision of a plan that would set criteria for determining when wood products qualify for credits when determining whether a building or home merits LEED status. It has opened a second comment period that will run until Oct. 14. (Click here for details.) The first such period last year generated nearly 1,800 comments, a sign of how the treatment of wood has been one of the LEED program's most contentious issues.

Currently, only wood certified by the FSC qualifies for LEED points. SFI, CSA and other groups--which have more North American timberlands certified under their schemes, and which generally enjoy more support from loggers and mills--have pressed for most of this decade to get their certification schemes recognized as well.

USGBC responded by proposing to give credits for any wood certified by a scheme that meets its Forest Certification Benchmark, a collection of criteria that measures whether the certifier clears USGBC's standards regarding governance, forestry standards, chain of custody, and accredition/certification processes. To pass the benchmark test, a certification group must comply with 48 prerequisite concerns and earn at least 13 of 32 possible credits for their handling of other issues.

It is those details that bug the certifiers, both for being too restrictive or for not being restrictive enough.

"The U.S. Green Building Council's recently released draft forest certification benchmarks are not the game-changer for sustainability that many proponents had in mind," SFI's statement said. "... With only 10% of the world's forests certified, the USGBC has missed the chance of a lifetime to forever end the certification debates and encourage more forest certificationworldwide by focusing on sustainability, not on minute differences between certification programs. Instead, the new draft benchmarks currently out for review have little do with forest management and include criteria that the USGBC itself does not meet, and certainly criteria that steel, concrete and competing products don't even have to attempt to meet."

CSA criticized USGBC for having "failed to seriously consider true measures of sustainable forestry, resulting in LEED's creation of a questionable benchmark process under the guise of inclusivity."

One reason for criticism from these groups appears to be a belief that they wouldn't pass several of the benchmark tests, in part because they disagree with USGBC's thinking. For instance, USGBC's first prerequisite demands that the governance structures of the entity responsible for certification must allocate no more than one-third of the structures' votes to governmental or for-profit forest owners, producers and similiar commercial entities. In other words, USGBC regards government representatives as being part of the for-profit interest groups. In contrast, SFI views the government representatives on its boards as being advocates for the public.

Meanwhile, FSC's U.S. division dislikes USGBC's decision to make consideration of Indigenous Peoples' rights a subject for credits rather than a prerequisite. "We find this omission a glaring affront to native peoples around the world and counter to USGBC's guiding principle on social equity," FSC wrote on its website. It also criticized the lack of prerequisites requiring public consultations to determine and verify the environmental and social values of forests.

A USGBC group will review the comments. Depending on the comments, it either will put the proposal up for a vote by council members or else revise the draft and send it out for a third round of public comments. In either case, there are no deadlines for taking action.