The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), at the urging of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealer Association and allied associations, has completed a study with the Yale School of Forestry of its certified wood policies under the construction-rating system known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

STAMP OF APPROVAL: NLMBDA has urged the USGBC to include an eco-label to simplify chain-of-custody requirements and make LEED verification easier, among other changes. Only wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) qualifies for points under the LEED system. But such wood products are available in limited quantities in the United States, where the bulk of domestic forest products are certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and other programs.

NLBMDA has advocated for several years that the USGBC re-examine this requirement, given the difficulty and expense that dealers report in trying to source FSC products, and the anti-competitive nature of mandating use of only one branded product. The new language that USGBC proposes wouldn't specify a required program, but would establish benchmarks to measure programs to determine if they qualify for credit under LEED.

USGBC opened its draft benchmarks for comment in August. NLBMDA submitted comments supporting the shift away from the FSC-only policy to include new forest certification benchmarks that more accurately reflect the market availability of certified wood products, and encourage using certified wood in LEED projects.

Additionally, NLBMDA urged USGBC to include an eco-label to simplify chain-of-custody requirements that would make LEED verification much simpler and less subject to false claims. The eco-label would work much as the lumber grade stamp does to document compliance. NLBMDA noted that there are more than 6,000 suppliers in the United States that can supply permanently eco-labeled dimension lumber, but only a small fraction of them hold the chain-of-custody certificates that FSC requires as part of its certification system. NLBMDA believes the potential for certified wood to flow through the construction supply chain would increase multifold if its eco-label suggestion is accepted.

Specifically, NLBMDA recommends the following additions to the draft benchmarks, chain of custody, and labeling section:

Under chain of custody procedures, add:

"Procedures for dimension lumber allow for certified lumber to carry producing mill permanent product label to serve as chain-of-custody documentation in commerce."

Under product labels, add the following for dimension lumber:

"1) Permanent label on dimension lumber shall identify the forest certification system of jurisdiction and specific producing mill on a face or side of each piece of dimension lumber, and the meaning of the label. 2) Mixing of dimension lumber from various LEED recognized certification systems shall be accepted as defined."

A public forum in July on the proposed eco-label demonstrated widespread support among building material dealers and others in the industry for such an approach. The lack of a meaningful product label on dimensional lumber products invites confusion at all levels of distribution and in the field.

Homeowners, LEED certifiers, and building inspectors find it difficult to decipher paper documentation as proof of origin of lumber products. Estimating percent and value of certified wood content is difficult, as well as value to be assigned to "mixed content" products.

If a producing mill applies a meaningful, permanent label, it would serve as producer's warranty, subject to third-party inspection, of origin of timber and provide permanent and transparent documentation of source throughout the life cycle of the product.

NLBMDA continues to seek the American Lumber Standards Committee's support for developing an eco-label standard, and is hopeful that USGBC will see the value in a simplified mechanism to identify certified wood and increase its use in green building projects.