The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) hopes to finish work by year-end on a proposal to allow wood certified by groups other than the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to qualify for points under USGBC's LEED program for green construction, a vice president of the council told lumber dealers and distributors today. That's at least half a year longer than some observers had expected the group would need to resolve this long-simmering issue.

USGBC aims to create a benchmark that would be used to assess whether a program has the qualities needed for USGBC to recognize it as a certifying body, Brendan Owens, the USGBC's vice president for LEED technical development, said.

"We've had a long history with this issue, and we are working to create a position in the market that respects LEED's position as a leader," Owens said. "...We're redrafting the benchmark [and] hope to concluded by the end of the year." One key, he said, is whether remaining concerns can be handled through a second public comment period that would take place later this year.

The USGBC issued its original request for comment on Aug. 8, 2008. That proposal generated 1,800 responses--roughly 60 times more than USGBC normally receives when it is seeks comment on a particular credit in its LEED program.

It's partly because of the high volume of responses that USGBC has taken so long to act, Owens indicated. He spoke in Washington during a green building forum co-sponsored by the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Assciation (NLBMDA) and the National Building Material Distribution Association.

Wood certification has been one of the most contentious product-related issues that USGBC faces with regard to LEED (short for Leadership in Energy and Environment Design), the program that has become the top green building program for commercial construction and that now aims to do the same for homes. LEED doesn't give points for wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Intiative (SFI), Canadian Standards Association, American Tree Farm System or similar groups that tend to be much more supported by the timber industry. Most other green building groups--particularly the Green Building Institute's Green Globes system as the the National Association of Home Builders-led Green Building Standard--recognize a number of certifying bodies.

Meanwhile, LBM associates have complained not just about how the standard was unfair but also because it was so hard to get FSC-certified wood--a result of many major timber companies' refusal to abide by FSC standards and instead promote other standards, particularly SFI.

According to an executive summary of the original proposal, the proposed new language would make non-FSC certification systems eligible to earn points under LEED provided they meet measurable benchmarks in four areas: governance; technical standards/substance; accreditation and auditing; and chain of custody and labeling. Owens didn't say anything today regarding how, or whether, USGBC had revised its proposal as a result of the comments it received.